In-store demonstrations of the smartphone-powered device launched across 20 Noel Leeming NZ stores nationwide last Saturday. Pre-orders are available on the website for $299, and delivery scheduled for early June.
Customers have shown a keen interest and pre-sales are going really well, executive general manager of merchandise Jason Bell says.
“The way it’s tracking, the first shipment will be sold out before it even arrives,” Bell says.
Virtual reality is the merging of a real life experience with a virtual world.
The Gear VR works by a user plugging in their Samsung S6 or S6 Edge smartphone and putting a pair of goggles on, which shows them a video, photo or game in 3D.
The user has a full 360-degree view of whatever world they are immersed in, and that tricks their mind into thinking its real.
This can have hilarious results when disorientated first-time users flail around and bump into things.
Though virtual reality devices have long been lauded by geeks and gamers, it’s on its way to becoming a significant product in stores for every day consumers.
“It’s still in an early adopter stage, this is the first real consumer product we’ve seen in New Zealand come through,” Bell says.
“But if you look globally, the forecast is quite staggering in terms of how big the market is going to get.”
BI Intelligence forecasts that the virtual reality market will be worth US$2.8 billion (NZ $3.8 billion) by 2020.
“And that’s a consumer-driven number,” Bell says.
Currently, the entertainment industry is the only one taking virtual reality devices to their full potential through gaming and movies.
One of the videos currently available for the Gear VR is a movie cinema experience.
If you care to crane your neck, you can glance around to look at the movie on the screen, the aisles, rows of empty seats and even the projector behind you.
The possibilities for where the technology could next go in the future are vast.
Bell says people could use virtual reality headsets to go to an open home without having to visit the house, watch the next Rugby World Cup from home and even attend a concert without actually being there.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who bought Oculus for US$2 billion last year, has also spoken of what could happen in the future with virtual reality.
“Immersive gaming will be the first... But this is just the start. After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on goggles in your home,” he wrote on Facebook last year.
Bell says being the first Kiwi retailer to sell the technology cements its place as market leaders in consumer electronics.
“One of our key goals is to bring our consumers new technology before everybody else. It helps make Noel Leeming be the authority in that space,” he says.
He says it’s most likely going to stock future developments in the virtual reality category, too.
This includes Oculus, which plans to start shipping its first consumer product in 2015, Sony, which wants to launch its Morpheus VR Headset next year and Microsoft, which hasn’t announced a release date for its HoloLens.
“This is a really good extension of wearables technology category,” Bell says.
It started with Fitbits and sports watches linking to your smartphone and now this. The wearables category is going to be significant [for retail] moving forward.”
Check out a firsthand account of what using a headset is like here.