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Startup wants to bring VR to online shopping

Denham Sadler /

A Melbourne startup wants to bring the virtual reality experience to online shopping with a service that will allow retailers to create their own 3D shopping platforms.

 

Snobal plans to operate as a WordPress-like site, giving users the tools and capabilities needed to create a 3D virtual ecommerce experience within their existing site.

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Co-founders Ann Nolan and Murray James began working on the startup a year ago and are now ready to open it up for game developers and artists to help further build the service.

 

Online shopping is yet to fully adapt to technological innovations, Nolan says.

 

“Online shopping has really come up but there isn’t actually any real innovation behind it,” she says.

 

“If you look at an ecommerce site, they really haven’t evolved in the last 20 years. It’s still a very click-and-order process, and it’s the same experience on every site.”

 

“Why not look at bringing gaming and visualisation to the ecommerce experience?”

 

Virtual reality set to take off

The virtual reality field is set to expand rapidly in the coming years, with increased access to headsets and digital platforms.

 

A TrendForce study from last week estimates sales of VR devices will reach 14 million units next year, and 38 million by 2020.

 

A 2015 Walker Sands study found that more than a third of those asked would be “open to purchasing more online” with virtual reality technology like Oculus Rift, and 63% said they expect it to impact their shopping in the future.

 

But this technology has been mostly restricted to gaming and education. Snobal wants to change that.

 

“We’re bringing all the elements together and providing a publishing platform for virtual reality content,” Nolan says.

 

Snobal will provide the various templates, plugins, APIs, art and assets to allow large and small retailers, hotels, galleries, airlines and shopping centres to create a virtual reality ecommerce platform.

 

The co-founders both have backgrounds in digital, retail design, online environments and architectural visualisations, but they want the service to be accessible for people who have no knowledge of virtual reality.

 

“We envisage a really robust, substantial platform developed in collaboration with game developers, artists and retail innovators that provides the tools for people with no technical ability to jump into creating their own virtual experiences and sell within this,” Nolan says.

 

Telling your story in virtual reality

This offers many new opportunities for existing retailers to stand out from the increasingly crowded ecommerce pack, Nolan says.

 

“It’s all about storytelling. We want to provide a platform for retailers enabling their customers to experience their brand in a way that their competitors can’t provide,” she says.

 

“The story will be unique to their brand, and it’ll also allow retailers to get fantastic information about what ways their customers like to experience their brand and products.”

 

“This can inform not just the online experience but also the bricks-and-mortar experience.”

 

Snobal is now working with developers and artists who can get access to a MVP, which will eventually be turned into a beta product.

 

The startup has been entirely bootstrapped so far, but Nolan is currently in talks with outside investors.

 

“We’re in discussions regarding accelerating the growth of this,” she says.

 

“We’re having some interesting discussions at the moment, but we’re always available for more interesting discussions.”

 

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Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a former editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.

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