Emperia helps brands like Bloomingdales create VR shopping experiences • TechCrunch
Does the average person want to buy virtual reality (VR) clothing? To me, that seems rather cumbersome – having to put on a headset to search for, say, pants instead of clicking through a few galleries. But not everyone agrees, especially those hoping to build a business out of VR retail.
Enter Emperia, an “immersive” retail startup that – to its credit – has already created virtual stores for brands including Bloomingdales, Dior, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste. Launched in 2019, the idea came from one of the co-founders, Olga Dogadkina, who previously worked in the luxury retail sector.
“It became clear to me that if e-commerce was the future of retail, 2D websites were just a tool that enabled online shopping through a simple grid of images and text, but lacked the customer journey, storytelling, and ability to provide the customer the physical stores retailers strive to achieve experience and product discovery,” Dogadkina told TechCrunch in an email interview.” My other co-founder, Simonas Holcmann, and I started Emperia to bridge the gap between the transactional nature of an online purchase and the personalized shopping experience brands can cultivate in-store.”
from Emperia The platform offers tools that brands can use to create virtual experiences, including virtual reality stores. It integrates with existing e-commerce and inventory management software, tracking demographics, store activity, and purchases. With Emperia, brands can host live events with hosts guiding them through a virtual space, or customize exhibits and presentations with 3D models and images of real inventory.
“Visitors” to Emperia’s virtual spaces do not need to wear a VR headset, which is crucial. The platform, which can be integrated into existing websites, supports phones, laptops and tablets and does not require the installation of any app or software.
“Using technology, Emperia aims to make virtual worlds 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. “Emperia is working directly with retailers’ e-commerce leaders, solving the user experience, data analytics and online engagement issues they’ve struggled with since the inception of e-commerce, by delivering a new solution that harnesses the ability of virtual worlds to assimilate and exceed the in-store customer experience and attract new target audiences, who use their mobile devices as a retail getaway.
Emperia collects a lot of data – data that not all buyers are comfortable sharing. Studies show that many virtual reality and “metaverse” platforms record information that could be used to identify a person, even if their data is anonymized on the device.
Dogadkina says Emperia only collects engagement, transaction and demographic data to give brands “visibility into how users are browsing and engaging.” [their] virtual spaces. She also notes that the data – which she says is not personally identifiable – is stored for “a limited time”, in accordance with GDPR rules.
On the horizon for Emperia are new verticals and better customization tools, says Dogadkina. The startup is also experimenting with machine learning, focusing on the technology’s ability to create 360-degree visuals and videos for product demos.
“This is a nascent industry and so there is a lot of market and user education to introduce people to this technology and ensure brands can capitalize on its potential,” Dogadkina said. “As a relatively new industry, retailers must seek multiple solutions in order to build and design their virtual worlds. While rich in solutions, from data and security, to 3D modeling and digital tokens, to a wide variety of metaverse platforms, each with their own specific audience and capabilities, the choices are all available. , but integrating them all together is a daunting task. This is one of the driving forces behind our desire to bring complementary solutions under one roof.
But will VR last – and is VR retail catching on?
Maybe so. According to an August 2022 report from PwC, around a third of consumers had tried a VR app in the last six months, and – of those consumers – 32% purchased products after checking them out in VR. A separate survey of more than 2,000 US shoppers, conducted in November 2022, found that around 37% plan to shop using virtual and augmented reality.
On the other hand, a September Deloitte survey found that only 5% of US internet users were expected to shop in VR before the 2022 holiday season. Highlighting the pressure platform developers are facing , AltspaceVR, one of the first social VR apps, was recently taken down by parent company Microsoft.
Dogadkina chooses to believe optimistic predictions – and has reason to. Despite competition from vendors like Obsess and ByondXR, Emperia has 45 customers in industries including fashion, beauty, luxury apparel and sports. It also attracted a $10 million Series A investment led by Base10 Partners, joined by Daphni, Sony Ventures, Background Capital, Stanford Capital Partners and Concept Ventures.
Emperia plans to increase the size of its workforce from 40 people to 120 by the end of the year.
“The pandemic has definitely accelerated the awareness among retailers of what immersive, technology-based e-commerce experiences can do and the role they can play in their selling strategy,” Dogadkina said. “The earlier marketing hype, which depended on the campaign and the short-lived virtual space, has now become a permanent and long-term e-commerce solution, which is treated as a “flagship virtual store”. Retailers are much more experienced, with specific roles within these specialized organizations and overseeing the creation and maintenance of these spaces, with the understanding that the virtual store is a completely new experience, different from the physical store environment, which presents a real opportunity to expand the brand’s appeal to future buyers.
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