This post ends with a video of a virtual dressing room, so don’t watch it just anywhere. The place to start, however, is with the latest in shopping search, and that means virtual malls, and that means Gemsta. Gemsta looks like a cross between your neighborhood shopping mall and the islands on the TV show LOST. In fact, I think that’s what it is.
The Gemsta archipelago may seem like a strange place for a shopping mall, but there it is. Once you arrive, you can drill down into various shopping categories such as Women’s Fashion, Sports, Flowers & Gifts and Baby & Child (with many more to come). They claim that they have (or will have) 50 malls with a total of 500 merchants, and if you went to every store’s web site, a grand total of 5,000,000 products. With numbers like that, it puts the burden on the user to drill down all the way from the aerial view to the right island, mall, store, and product. If you need a wide variety of items, that could end up being a whole lot of climbing up and drilling down!
An earlier virtual mall is Yoowalk, so named because you have to make your avatar (yes, just like the movie) literally walk through their virtual mall and into the virtual stores. It tries to mimic the exact experience of walking around an indoor mall, but without the aerobic benefits.
The third one to check out is EveryScape, where you drive along virtual roads until you want to go inside of a building, like the bar from the TV show Cheers.
Once the initial novelty wears off, however, it must be said that these complex virtual shopping experiences are still too slow and cumbersome to navigate. EveryScape was completely down when I went back to snap some pictures due to too much traffic (how much is too much?) whereas Yoowalk says they have 47,331 registered users, but when I stopped by, there were only 67 shoppers online. I’m no MBA, but it seems like it would be difficult to make money off of 67 shoppers (at that time).
However, if you want to see where shopping search is headed, you really need to go look at these three sites, but it would not surprise me at all if you came back and left a comment saying that the overall experience was lacking.
Stepping back a bit, you could look at Virtually Shopping, which is simply a Monopoly board of stores that lets you click on each one. Micello does the same type of thing on your mobile. (How would you “walk” to Banana Republic?)
Now there is talk of Google expanding their Street Views by photographing the inside of actual stores. For some Google watchers, it may seem like another case of something appearing to be new because Google is “unveiling” it, where in reality the alternative search engines have been doing it for quite some time, albeit in relative obscurity.
As for traditional shopping search engines, they are really virtual catalogs, pages and pages of product pictures, descriptions, and prices that you can browse via endless filters until you are ready to purchase an item. Virtual shopping mimics the physical buildings and stores, not the online catalogs.
Finally, as promised, here is a video from 2009 that attempts to use Augmented Reality technology to create a virtual dressing room (inside the virtual store inside the virtual mall).