Take a good look at online retail’s current modus operandi: since the dawn of e-commerce, websites have homogenised the all too familiar interface of static grids, category filters, and infinite thumbnails. So whilst bricks-and-mortar is undergoing upheaval, e-tail is also in dire need of a reboot. Enter Obsess, the virtual reality enabler set to shake up the online status quo.
As a former engineer for Google and product lead for Vogue’s digital outputs, Obsess founder Neha Singh spent years examining the pain points of online consumer journeys and found that e-commerce’s biggest issue was down to a lack of differentiation. “Today’s interface is good for search and filter for specific things, but it’s not great for discovery,” she explains to ORDRE.
Thus she launched a VR-powered platform that mimics the intuitive experience of gaming in a retail context, informed by her first introduction to the technology. “When I tried my first virtual reality headset for a game, I instantly dreamt that this was how I wanted to shop,” she reveals. “The goal of Obsess is to create immersive, visual online shopping experiences so that e-commerce goes from a database of information to something branded, memorable and engaging.”
For each brand or retail partnership, Singh and her team build entire 3D spaces from scratch, designing digital store concepts fitted with products in just two months. To facilitate this, the platform uses a patented mix of virtual and augmented reality technology – similar to computer graphics used for special effects in films – which work without the need for apps or headsets, just a simple web link.
“E-commerce must go from a database of information to something branded, memorable and engaging.”
Singh stresses that the possibilities are endless, meaning that a brand’s vision can be translated with zero limitations: “Essentially we can create any scenario and brands get to be really creative with it. Often a designer’s inspiration gets lost online, so our goal is to bring that to the forefront and make shopping contextual, giving online shoppers the true brand experience.”
Several leading brands and retailers have been quick to jump on Obsess’ potential, including Farfetch, Levis and Tommy Hilfiger. The latter’s SS’20 show at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in New York was subsequently redesigned into a shoppable virtual reality space, complete with backstage passes and front row runway views. But Obsess also works with emerging businesses, particularly those with no physical presence who seek unique ways to build and engage with their audiences. Bergdorf Goodman-stocked accessories brand Allison Mitchell is one such example that has leveraged the technology, bypassing the risks of setting up its own brick-and-mortar space.
“Using Obsess, Allison Mitchell gets this larger than life presence online, and it’s very specifically branded to reflect their exotic leathers and furs,” explains Singh. She adds that the label has seen a definite increase in conversion rates, engagement, and cart sizes, thanks to the technology’s ability to create a memorable brand experience: “we discovered that this actually increased consumer recollection of the product and the brand, because now instead of just a grid of thumbnails, people are given something distinct to remember.”
Aside from licensing their technology to other businesses, the founder has also developed Obsess’ own consumer marketplace destination, Shop Obsess, presenting multi-brand stores inspired by varying trends under one virtual roof. “In traditional marketplaces, products from different brands are usually mixed in together, so they all end up looking the same. We can offer something very unique in this space,” she believes.
“Our goal is to make shopping contextual, giving online shoppers the true brand experience.”
Having only just scratched the surface of VR capabilities for retail, Singh is excited about the prospects of taking Obsess up a notch, especially with the onset of 5G. She reveals her team are currently working on creating dynamic merchandising so that products in the virtual space can be personalised to each user.
Additionally, they are working on enhancing the platform’s social aspect to reflect real-world purchasing journeys. “Real life shopping is social; it's often done with friends and people share opinions, but this is a lot harder to do when shopping alone online,” says Singh. “In the context of Obsess, we have the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind social interactions online.”
With only basic chat functions to boot, eventually, she hopes to reach a point where groups of friends can shop via Obsess and seamlessly communicate with one another through chat, voice, or even virtual avatars – the game experience verbatim.
Only two years in the making, the platform is still finding its footing. But Singh is optimistic, believing that Obsess will grow rapidly as consumers increasingly familiarise themselves with VR applications across the board: “the new generation of consumers are getting used to these technologies through other platforms. For shopping, it's still very new, so that’s what we are pioneering.” Needless to say, retail is in a state of flux, both on and offline; Obsess offers a promising future for e-commerce.