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eBay's 'world first' VR department store lets you eye before you buy

Forget the outlet malls -- your next big purchase could be hiding in the virtual world. Just put on your "shoptacles" headset and start buying.

eBay is imagining a future where we shop in VR, and it wants you to put on your "shoptacles" and start buying.

The granddaddy of e-commerce is jumping on the virtual reality bandwagon with the launch of what it claims is the "world's first" VR shopping app.

eBay has partnered with Australian department store Myer for the launch, offering 12,500 products that shoppers can browse through, select and add to their cart just by moving their head.

And to get Australians shopping in this virtual world, eBay is giving away 20,000 free Google Cardboard-style headsets, which its dubs "Shoptacles." I checked this name with the eBay team three times and, yes, they're sticking with it.

While Oculus, HTC and Sony are all rushing into the VR space with the launch of highly-spec'd headsets for gaming and entertainment, eBay is piggy-backing off Google's low-cost Cardboard headsets to commoditise VR and bring it to the masses.

Take a trip to the department store, with a firm grasp on your "shoptacles."

Claire Reilly/CNET

Inside the virtual eBay store, you'll see products ranging from clothing and cosmetics to appliances and electronics, all floating around in three-dimensional clouds in front of your eyes. Look at one of the products and it will bring up the listing, with the option for you to add it to your cart with a glance. Roughly 120 products have also been shot and rendered in 3D so you can get a full 360-degree view while you shop.

You'll still need to pick up your mobile to make the final transaction, but eBay says it is just starting to scratch the surface of what can be done.

"We believe the next channel for retail will be virtual," said Steve Brennen, eBay's senior director of marketing and retail innovation.

"We don't build gimmicks...If retailers in the future are going to have an omni-channel strategy, it will include retailing a virtual world."

eBay is technically calling the launch a trial, saying it will track uptake of the 20,000 "shoptacles" and how customers use the interface (interested customers will also be able to download the app to play through any standard VR headset).

But it's already got its eyes set on analytics like browsing data, dwell times and how the app can be personalised to show different results for different users, features which it says are "more credible" when gleaned from VR.

"We want to get it into customers' hands and see how they respond, and then we want to adapt and take it to the next level," said Brennen. "We're pretty clear it's a glimpse...but we're saying you can now start to see where the virtual shopping world will play out in the next couple of years."