Does the average person want to shop for clothes in virtual reality (VR)? Speaking to myself, it sounds really awkward – I’d have to put on a headset to search for pants, for example, instead of clicking through a few galleries of pants. But not everyone agrees — especially those hoping to build a business outside of VR retail.
Enter Imperia, an “immersive” retail startup that — to its credit — has already created virtual stores for brands including Bloomingdales, Dior, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste. In the year Launched in 2019, the idea came from entrepreneur Olga Dogadkina, who previously worked in the luxury retail sector.
“While e-commerce is the future of retail, it became clear to me that 2D websites were tools that enabled online shopping with a simple grid of images and text, but lacked the ability to provide the customer journey, storytelling and customer experience and product discovery that retailers strive to achieve in physical stores,” he said. “My co-founder, Simons Holman, and I started Imperia to bridge the gap between the transactional nature of e-commerce shopping and personalized shopping experience brands,” Dogadkina told TechCrunch in an email interview.
Imperia The platform provides tools that brands can use to create virtual experiences, including stores in virtual reality. It integrates with existing e-commerce and stock management software, tracking demographics, store activity and purchases. With Imperia, brands can host live events with hosts walking through a virtual space or customize exhibits and displays with 3D models and images of real-world inventory.
“Visitors” to Imperia’s virtual spaces don’t necessarily need to wear a VR headset. The platform – which can be embedded into existing websites – supports phones, laptops and tablets and requires no apps or software to be installed.
“Using technology, Imperia aims to transform virtual worlds into the future of e-commerce, expanding reach to new and future online shoppers, increasing brand loyalty and creating a whole new shopping experience,” said Dogadkina. “Imperia works directly with retailers’ e-commerce leaders to deliver a new solution that leverages the virtual world’s ability to solve user experience, data analytics and Internet connectivity issues that have struggled since the dawn of e-commerce. And they appeal to a new target audience that goes beyond the in-store customer experience and uses their mobile devices for retail escapism.
Imperia collects a lot of data – data that every consumer is uncomfortable sharing. Research shows that many VR and “metaverse” platforms record data that can be used to identify a person, even if the data is not identified on the device.
Dogadkina Imperia collects only engagement, marketing and demographic data for brands to “see how consumers navigate and engage. [their] Virtual Spaces” also notes that the data – which she says is not personally identifiable – is stored for a “limited period” and is stored in compliance with GDPR laws.
According to Dogadkina, there are new constants and better personalization tools on the horizon for Imperia. The startup is also experimenting with machine learning, focusing on the technology to create images and 360-degree videos for product demonstrations.
“This is a new industry and there is a lot of market and user education involved in introducing people to this technology and validating brands,” Dogadkina said. “As a relatively new industry, retailers need to explore multiple solutions to build and design their virtual worlds. Despite the wealth of solutions, from data to security, 3D modeling and digital tokens, to a variety of different metaverse platforms, each with its own audience and unique capabilities, the options are all there but Integrating it all together is a daunting task, which is one of the driving forces behind our desire to bring complementary solutions under one roof.
But will VR have staying power – and is retail catching up to virtual reality?
Maybe so. According to an August 2022 report from PwC, one-third of consumers have tried a VR app in the past six months, and – of those consumers – 32% have purchased products after testing them in VR. A November 2022 poll of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers found that approximately 37% plan to use VR to shop, and that’s a growing reality.
On the other hand, a September Deloitte study found that 5% of US internet users are expected to shop in VR before the 2022 holiday season. Highlighting the pressure platform developers face, AltspaceVR, one of the first VR social apps, was recently sunk by parent company Microsoft.
Dogadkina is choosing to believe the bright predictions – and with good reason. Despite competition from providers such as Obsess and ByondXR, Imperia has 45 clients including fashion, beauty, luxury apparel and sports. It also attracted a $10 million Series A investment led by Base10 Partners, along with Daphni, Sony Ventures, Background Capital, Stanford Capital Partners and Concept Ventures.
Imperia expects to increase its workforce from 40 people to 120 by the end of the year.
“The pandemic has accelerated retailers’ awareness of what an immersive, tech-enabled e-commerce experience can do and the role it can play in their sales strategy,” Dogadkina said. “What used to be a campaign-based, short-lived virtual space is now a permanent, long-term e-commerce solution, referred to as a ‘flagship virtual store.’ , understanding that the virtual store is a completely new experience, different from the physical store environment, which provides a real opportunity to expand. The brand’s appeal to future consumers.