Alibaba develops technology to allow virtual visits to stores

March 19, 2016 12:00 PM

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. this week opened a lab to develop virtual reality technology for shopping and predicted that VR gear could become the next big computing platform after computers and mobile devices.

“VR technology could create a 360-degree shopping experience for users. In the near future, people sitting at home can shop like they are walking in the stores on Fifth Avenue in New York,” lab leader Zhao Haiping says in a statement. “We are developing tools that allow merchants to build virtual stores easier.”

Zhao, previously an engineer with Facebook Inc., joined Alibaba in 2015. He lived in California while working for Facebook but has returned to China to start the new Alibaba lab, which Alibaba is calling Gnome Magic, a reference to the World of Warcraft video game. Alibaba did not say where in China the lab is located. Alibaba is based in Hangzhou, about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai.

The lab’s first task is a project called God of Creation that aims to develop software to quickly convert products into their digital, three-dimensional equivalents, which are the key elements to building a virtual store, Alibaba says. 

Besides shopping, Alibaba also plans to create a technology standard for VR technology, working with its subsidiaries Alibaba Pictures, Alibaba Music and, a Chinese version YouTube. began in January providing 3-D video services for VR gear users.  

Alibaba says it will create a VR product section on its Chinese online marketplace Taobao to promote the sales of VR gear. Many VR equipment startups have launched their products through the crowd-funding section of Taobao, Alibaba’s biggest online shopping portal for consumers. On this subsite of, 46,000 consumers recently spent jointly 5.35 million yuan ($826,000) to help a startup turn its design into a product, a VR helmet called Dapeng, according to Alibaba.

Alibaba also has invested in VR technology startups. Earlier this year, Alibaba led the investment of $794 million into U.S.-based startup Magic Leap Inc., which develops technology that allows users to see 3-D computer-generated images superimposed on real-world objects.  


For more Chinese e-commerce data, please click here for Internet Retailer 2016 China 500. 

Follow Frank Tong on Twitter @FrankTongIR     




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