How many consumers are shopping in virtual reality and what can it offer them?

A woman wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset, with a computer in the background.

Some virtual reality users have used the technology to make purchases Image: Unsplash/Jessica Lewis

Simon Read
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  • A third of virtual reality (VR) users have shopped with the technology in the last six months, says a survey from PwC.
  • Retailers are being urged to respond to the “surprising reach” of VR.
  • Luxury goods are a hit in the virtual world, with nearly a fifth of VR users buying them.
  • China, India and Qatar are the markets where VR is most popular.

More of us are turning to virtual reality (VR) to do our shopping – and it is a switch that could signal big changes in the retail sector. The “surprising reach” of VR is revealed in a survey from professional services giant PwC.

Around a third of us have used a VR channel in the last six months, according to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey. Half of those VR users said they used the technology for games, movies and TV shows. But many had been shopping in the virtual world, with 32% buying products after checking them out on VR platforms.

It is easy to see why VR and shopping are proving to be a good match. Through the use of headsets, the technology creates an immersive experience allowing customers to walk around a virtual store, interact with avatar staff, browse products in 3D and even personalize some items before placing an order.

An infographic showing how consumers used VR in the past six months
Among the 32% of consumers who use VR, many use the technology to shop. Image: PwC

PwC says one of the most surprising results in their survey is that nearly a fifth of VR users reported buying luxury goods: “…even high margin products for the least price-sensitive customers are a hit in the metaverse”.

Personalized avatars

Consumers in China, India and Qatar are most keen on VR, and the platform seems less of a hit in Australia, Ireland and Japan, the survey says. Age comes into play too with Generation Z (those born in the late 1990s) and young millennials most comfortable in the VR world.

Many big names on the high street are getting in on the act. Customers shopping with Hugo Boss can now create personalized avatars to try on clothes, thanks to the German fashion firm’s partnership with Reactive Reality.

An image of avatars wearing clothes
Hugo Boss customers can try on clothes using an avatar based on their own measurements. Image: Hugo Boss

Using Reactive Reality’s PICTOFiT technology, shoppers can create versions of themselves that match their own measurements and try on thousands of Hugo Boss garments without getting off the couch.


PICTOFiT lets shoppers experience some of those crucial details about an outfit, such as how items look layered on top of each other, reports 365Retail. Stefan Hauswiesner, CEO and co-founder of Reactive Reality told the retail industry news site: “… we want to help retailers keep up with the demands of consumers who are looking for new and exciting ways to shop online”.

Seeing furniture in your home before you buy

Retailers are using both VR, where customers typically wear a headset to enter a completely digital world, and augmented reality, which overlays digital projections into the real world and can be accessed on a smartphone.

Such technology is being used to sell products shoppers have traditionally been reluctant to buy online. Furniture is one example where consumers want to see the size of items to check how they fit into their homes, writes Bernard Marr in Forbes.

Now IKEA’s The Place App allows customers to do just that, by projecting a digital version of the chair or table into the room where it is going to end up.


Retail disrupted since the pandemic

Another VR twist comes from the US shoes and clothing firm TOMS. The company donates $1 of every $3 it makes to grassroots organizations promoting equality – and founder Blake Mycoskie wanted to give his customers the chance to see what impact that had.

This is now possible thanks to VR equipment installed at TOMS stores around the world, with customers able to take part in Virtual Giving Trips while they shop.


VR is tipped to keep growing, with PwC reporting that 35% of those who have used the technology are expected to increase their spending on the platform over the next six months, in at least six categories.

That demand comes after two years of severe disruption for retailers following the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“If retail companies had any doubt about the need to reach consumers across all channels, the pandemic, gnarled supply chains and inflation have made the imperative clear,” say the report’s authors. “The surprising reach of VR channels leaves little room to delay.”


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