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Alibaba to launch virtual reality store by month-end

Alibaba Group is set to launch a digital store where shoppers could walk around and interact with robotic sales assistants wearing a virtual reality helmet.

Shoppers wearing the helmet can also rotate an item as if they were picking it up to take a look at it. If they like it, they can click on a “buy” button and make a purchase.

The store will be launched by the end of the month, WWD reported, with a larger-scale rollout planned for later this year.

Although shoppers have to have their own helmet, Alibaba’s senior director of mobile Zhuang Zhuoran said the e-commerce giant alone has been selling 300,000 units every month in China, some of which are as cheap as $20. The company is also considering providing free headsets for shoppers to try.

Alibaba started investing in virtual reality earlier this year, leading a $794m funding round for US-based firm Magic Leap, after which it established a lab called Gnome Magic to experiment with integrating the technology with online shopping.

Sharon Chan, a spokesperson for Alibaba, said the challenge was getting the digital 3D product right and bringing the cost of that down from the current $50 per product to $1.

China could be a good test bed for virtual reality shopping, she added, as 60% of the country’s population lives in rural areas without access to quality retail stores, but at the same time they are mobile savvy and comfortable with online shopping.


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