Developing a (virtual) retail experience

In 2010, I was given the exciting opportunity to work for a manufacturer on an internal-exclusive project related to their ecommerce/sales initiatives. It was very secretive at the time, but resulted in a project that many other companies at the time were also working on “behind lock and key.” They were building their strategies to sell their products on Amazon. This was the project responsible for making me fall in love with ecommerce.

That’s not the point of this article though. Although related, this article takes the learnings and background from that Amazon project, mixed with my skills from an Augmented/Virtual Reality online course that I’m taking through Columbia College Chicago Online, and a pinch of craziness to walk you through my virtual reality project.

Let’s dive in…

Using the foundation of an idea that I’ve had for a while for a virtual shopping experience (yes, yes, I know Sephora and everybody else is doing that too…), I wanted to bring to life photorealistic models of everyday products that you may shop for for your home, office or backyard.

Initial scene of my “shopping experience”. (Reserve judgement until final experience is shown, please.)

Needless to say from the screenshot of the scene above, this ended up being more difficult than I had thought. Just like building out a product listing on, you have to have an eye for detail. But with VR, that standard of detail increases exponentially! By being able to walk up to a chest (as illustrated above), you have to show the wood grain of the siding or the slightly rusted shimmer of the brass hardware on the front. These minute details are what’s going to sell a product in this environment — not necessarily “how many nail it takes to assemble the chest.”

So after thinking it through for a couple of days, doing some more experiments that got scrapped, and hearing from classmates in my online course, I decided on a simple, yet functional modern home-like environment to showcase my products. By making it modern, a retail-like mindset is instilled in the user, but by laying out the individual spaces like a house, that same user could envision the product as it may look in their own home.

Experimenting with a lamp, indoor lighting, and a bar-type table area.
One area of particular importance is outdoor experiences.
Pulling in products that not only are relevant to users, but also tell your story is important.

These three screenshots show where I’ve gotten to in my environment. The next step(s) include integrating a waypoint system in order to assist the user throughout the environment, adding more products, and eventually expanding into other areas and “purposes” in the home.

Shortly down the road, I also plan on integrating product data such as pricing, color/size variables (where applicable), and even an “add to cart” functionality. This would allow the user to be able to explore and complete their shopping experience in its entirety — within an virtual environment.