Retailers Can Create Headset-Free Virtual Reality Experiences


Brick-and-mortar stores can’t always offer the in-store experience to consumers at home, particularly if they have products that are meant to be picked up and admired from multiple angles. Vancouver’s Six Hundred Four, which sells limited-edition sneakers designed by artists, for example, has an in-store experience that feels like a combination of a store and an art gallery.

That concept is not always easy to replicate through a traditional eCommerce website. “It’s tough to echo what we do in person online because it’s an art gallery,” Six Hundred Four Founder and CEO James Lepp told PYMNTS in an interview. As a result, Lepp offers a unique way for his customers to view his merchandise online: They can “walk” through a virtual version of his real-life store via virtual reality (VR) technology, which seeks to create a similar experience to visually exploring the store.

“We try to get closer to that with the VR store,” Lepp said. “And no matter where you are from, whether you’re visiting our sneaker gallery from New York online or whether you’re from Vancouver, we wanted to give people an idea what it’s like in our store without just using typical images.”

Through Six Hundred Four’s VR platform, users can not only look at the company’s products: They can also buy them within the experience. Unlike other applications of VR, Six Hundred Four’s use of the technology is rather unique: Its virtual shopping experience doesn’t require a headset.

A Headset-Free VR Experience

Lepp said he’s not too experienced with VR, but he does have a simple headset — and he knows people typically only use them at home. Six Hundred Four offers something different. It lets customers take the experience anywhere: They can “walk” around his store through multiple devices.

“[It gives them] the opportunity to walk around the store … see how the shoes correlate with the art pieces and let them experience the brand, experience the store without actually having to go there,” Lepp said. However, he hopes the experience encourages customers to visit the store when they are in Vancouver.

Beyond browsing Lepp’s store, consumers can purchase shoes from within the VR experience. Each sneaker is linked to a page on a traditional eCommerce website. When customers click on an individual shoe in the virtual reality experience, they can add the item to their shopping carts. In addition, customers can enter their payment details and check out without having to visit another webpage.

Six Hundred Four is hardly the only retailer to embrace VR technology. Barneys New York, for example, recently announced its spring campaign “Mantle”: a virtual reality experience with the Martha Graham Dance Company and Samsung Electronics America, Inc. The VR short film reportedly marries fashion, tech and contemporary dance, premiering exclusive designer looks to Barneys New York customers straight from the runway via the Oculus Gear VR, Samsung’s VR app and Barneys’ website.

The Road Ahead

Lepp believes he has the first virtual reality sneaker store. And while it works for his concept, he’s not sure it will work for every retailer. Some retailers frequently introduce new products, and it might be hard for them to update the virtual reality imagery. But Six Hundred Four is not a typical retailer, Lepp said; the company only introduces a new product every month or two. As a result, his store is more conducive to a VR experience.

And what about the number “Six Hundred Four”? It holds a special significance for the company as Vancouver’s area code is, in fact, “604.” Beyond branding, Lepp learned that 604 is close to the magic number for shoe production after talking with suppliers and factories during his time in the shoe business.

“For whatever reason, the minimum was always six hundred pairs,” Lepp said. “And that was just conveniently close to the area code of Vancouver — where I’m from and where the store is.”

In addition, he always wanted to limit the number of sneakers that were produced for each art piece no matter where the company was located, so, for all those reasons, he went with 604. Lepp does plan to bring his sneaker gallery to new markets, but he’s pretty sure he’ll be keeping the same area code for his brand — even if it does, in fact, leave the 604.

“It will always be Six Hundred Four no matter where we go,” Lepp said.


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