Academic institutions often provide a preview of business practices and technologies that may one day hit the mainstream. That’s true of e-retail, too. Among the consumer shopping tools and technologies getting a look at Indiana University’s Center for Education and Research in Retailing is 3-D shopping environments.
More than rotating product images online for a 360-degree view, these immersive online displays let users navigate through a virtual mock-up of a store environment, complete with store aisles and shelves of product. One of the best potential applications of the technology is likely to be on the web sites of retailers whose store layouts already are familiar to shoppers, says Raymond Burke, director of the Center’s Customer Interface Laboratory. “Let`s say you go to Target or Wal-Mart weekly. You know how the store’s laid out and what the products look like, so a 3-D environment can help you leverage that knowledge of the physical layout when you shop online,” he says.
A few e-retailers have experimented with 3-D shopping environments, notes Burke, but the technology still faces barriers such as lower bandwidth access on the part of consumers as well as a lack of navigation standards among the developers of 3-D technology. “Every one of the 3-D environments we’ve seen has a different way of navigating,” says Burke. “We still need to see some maturity in this space.”