Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Shop assistants go online

Shopping in cyberspace is fun if you know what you want. A virtual reality cyber-shopping scheme has been created to assist the majority of customers who do not know what they are looking for and to help make the Internet more commercially attractive.

Background

Today, nea...
Shopping in cyberspace is fun if you know what you want. A virtual reality cyber-shopping scheme has been created to assist the majority of customers who do not know what they are looking for and to help make the Internet more commercially attractive.

Background

Today, nearly anything and everything can be purchased electronically. The number of Internet shops and services is growing daily. However, consumers tend to have reservations about buying on-line - they sense a feeling of isolation when purchasing goods via their PCs, and a lack of assistance when trying to choose an item. Bringing together virtual reality (VR) systems with the Internet can overcome this and make cybershopping more commercially attractive.

Description, impact and results

VR-Shop, a virtual-reality electronic shopping system developed by the European Commission's Esprit project, is now in operation on the Internet. An Internet-based VR environment has many advantages for the consumer: it can give a holidaymaker an immediate impression of a tourist resort, a book lover can inspect an expensive art book without fear of damaging the pages, while car buyers can shortlist the new models they would like to test drive, after a virtual reality inspection.

Fashion items can even be tried on through VR. The potential customer is represented at the virtual shop by an `avatar' - a software shopping agent who portrays, in digital form, the customer's size, shape and face. The shopper can then dress the figure and see `themselves' in the clothes they would like to buy and wear. Similarly, avatars can represent customers at on-line auctions, bidding for lots by raising a virtual hand.

One of the key benefits of the system is the opportunity to make buying on the Internet more interactive as well as attractive to the consumer. The buyer will be able to question a real shop assistant through an audio or videoconference link. A user simply requiring product information can ask the virtual shop assistant, Shoppi, for help. If several people visit a virtual shop at the same time, they will meet each other in a virtual form and will be able to discuss the products on offer. On-line shops and services are already open for business at: http://www.vr-shop.iao.fhg.de. The range of products will expand as the site grows more popular, the technology develops and the users become more experienced at virtual shopping. The first steps have already been taken through the associated Esprit project on communication from home to VR-based local communities, which will establish VR-Shop for interactive TV and enhance community technology.

Working partnerships

The project was led by specialists in electronic payment systems, Mellon Technologies and the software company Exodus, both based in Greece. The main design and conception work was done by the research institute Fraunhofer Institut fur Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO, and the multi-user virtual platform was developed by Blaxxun Interactive, both from Germany, and the French market research company, Sofres-Emnid. The British partner, 3D Scanners, developed the hardware system to generate personalised lifelike avatars. The Italian telecommunications provider, Italtel, studied integration of the system with cable-TV technology.


Source: European Commission, DG XIII/D.4 - Information and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge

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