Real opportunities for v-commerce market in SA

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As South Africa witnesses an e-commerce boom in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the country can expect virtual reality (VR) commerce, or v-commerce as it commonly known, to also take off.

This is the word from Oliver Baillie, CEO and founder of La Maison Des Arts (LMDA), noting that v-commerce will play a critical role in the future of retail in SA, and Africa more broadly.

V-commerce is on the rise in developed markets like the US, with the market predicted to grow rapidly to R25 billion by 2025, notes Baillie.

“First of all, COVID-19 has made people concerned and in some cases unable to spend time in public places,” he says. “We’ve seen foot traffic in malls and shopping centres significantly down, even now that people are allowed to return to them and shops are open. We’ve seen e-commerce step into that void and v-commerce is one step further to replicating, and even improving upon, the real-life shopping experience.”

“In SA and Africa, where people can be in very remote locations, VR offers the opportunity to have more real life experiences without having to travel, thereby creating a more inclusive economy. Furthermore, v-commerce is better for the retailers selling their products. The benefits are numerous – it’s much quicker and cheaper to test new concepts, launch new products and deliver a more experiential shopping process.”

Immersive experiences

Often described as the next phase of digital commerce, v-commerce is where consumers buy products and services while in VR.

Last year, Gartner predicted that by 2020, 100 million global consumers will shop in augmented reality (AR) online and in-store. The firm noted that both AR and VR technologies have the potential to shake-up the customer experience by individualising retailers' offers and enabling customers to visualise products in different settings.

Amid this anticipated v-commerce boon, LMDA is preparing to host what it bills as Africa’s “first ever” VR market in partnership with Skin Renewal and myUTOPIA, a boutique lifestyle centre that incorporates fitness and wellness services.

Taking place on 3 October, the theme of the market is wellness and will be incorporating some brands from beauty, given they are highly interlinked. It will also feature speakers, products and experiences across the wellness industry.

The market will be a place where consumers buy products and services while in VR, states Baillie. “LMDA’s VR market is an exciting celebration of innovation and the local wellness and technology industries combining to deliver a unique experience to all involved.

“Virtual reality is a realistic and immersive computer-generated 3D environment. The ‘market’ element is combination of a series of wellness-related VR experiences, an all-star line-up of wellness experts giving talks and 20 high-quality local wellness and beauty brands selling products through their VR boutiques. 130 consumers and 20 local brand owners will come together to enjoy this immersive experience.

“Each retailer will have a VR boutique, which will display their products. Consumers can visit the boutique, look through the products and talk to the owner in real-time if they have questions. They can then add the product to their cart and checkout in the same way they would with e-commerce. Consumers will then receive a delivery of their products a few days after the event.”

Commenting on the decision to bring a virtual reality market to SA, Baillie says SA is blessed with a large number of incredibly talented creative entrepreneurs, and LMDA’s mission is to connect them to their customers using the latest technology.

“COVID-19 led them to be disconnected from their customers. Our e-commerce Web site enabled them to reach an audience and continue to operate in these difficult times. We identified the opportunity to improve that consumer experience even further by introducing v-commerce.”

More VR experiences

Meanwhile, John Deere Africa has announced it will launch its first virtual exhibition at Nampo Harvest Day 2020.

According to the company, expo-goers will experience first-hand Deere’s 3D and VR showroom initiative, which promises to take virtual reality and immersive experiences to the next level.

“We don't want to ruin the surprise, but we will reveal that we have physically 3D scanned more than 30 of our models and built a virtual showroom. Plus, our Revet John Deere Licensed Merchandise Store has been transformed into a 3D shopping experience. This is probably one of few, if not the first, for agriculture in Africa,” says Stephan Nel, marketing manager, John Deere Africa.

Deere’s management team says it planned this concept before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, where they envisioned a virtual showroom and merchandise store to assist farmers who were unable to travel to their local dealership.

The latest scans, modelling and technology utilised by Deere will allow farmers to virtually walk around the equipment and browse the Revet John Deere Licensed Merchandise Store aisles, participate in games, competitions and other interactive pages on the site, providing information and entertainment for all visitors.

Nel adds that the showroom transformation contributes to the digital era and has a greater and superior ability to portray movement.

“Our showroom has exceeded our expectations and we are thrilled to showcase our world-class equipment utilising top-of-the-range digital technology. Visitors can interact with our stand at NAMPO online, and view our monumental new showroom, without leaving the comfort of their own home,” says Jacques Taylor, John Deere's MD for Africa and Middle East.

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