Could the emergence of 3-D virtual shopping sound the death knell for high-street retailers? We speak to one Dubai businessman who has launched his own store, Spirit of Arabia.
Dubai-based entrepreneur tells how Spirit of Arabia takes online shopping to a whole new dimension
If the technology entrepreneur Arshed Mohammed has his way, our shopping habits may soon drastically change. On February 9, he unveiled a demo version of his 3-D virtual concept store called Spirit of Arabia. It’s the cyber version of the actual store he opened in Dubai’s Sunset Mall in 2011, which has since closed.
The new application enables customers to browse the rails of the computerised clothes shop by creating their own lifelike avatar. Much as a person would on a normal trip to a mega mall, the avatars can chat to the shop assistant and try on pieces in the changing room. Decision made, purchases are then added to the virtual shopping cart.
Mohammed’s 3-D store is still in its embryonic stages and, unlike the original boutique, it doesn’t yet have real stock for people to buy. It’s in the pipeline, alongside plenty of other features. Capitalising on the current trend for selfies, customers will soon have the opportunity to take pictures of their avatars and their surroundings. The Photo Op feature then allows the snaps to be uploaded to social networks. Mohammed is also developing the software to allow customers to put their own faces on the avatars.
Click on the quick demo tour of the store and you’ll see a selection of colourful belted kaftans, tunics and jumpsuits, which may be a hint of collections to come. For men, there’s also an array of primary coloured T-shirts and Bermuda short-and-shirt combos. The designer behind the range is Amira Alaoul, who studied at Esmod and spent 12 years in Paris before relocating to the UAE and going into business with Mohammed.
Gift items with an Arabian theme are also expected be rolled out in the cyber store. For Mohammed, it’s the perfect way to access a global audience.
“Our printed silk scarves will be very popular,” he says. “We’re aimed at tourists and we hope people abroad will buy and wear our designs from the Middle East. The pieces don’t have particularly heavy Arabic designs, they are made to be worn easily, internationally. Our tag line is ‘bridging cultures’ and we want to spread the story of Arabia through our products.”
So how does it work? Well, the working prototype merges actual photographs with high-resolution graphics before the programme is rendered in 3- D. As for the clothes themselves, hover over your chosen item and a pop-up window will provide product information from sizes to fabrics – and prices which will start from Dh250.
The 3-D store is a replica of the former boutique in Sunset Mall with its modern Arabic artwork, cobalt blue statement wall and cream flooring. Mohammed has big plans, however, to expand his concept far beyond the shop floor. “In the future we will expand the outside world to allow ‘virtual tourists’ to explore the landscape,” he says.
The British-born Mohammed moved to Dubai 13 years ago following jobs with British Aerospace, among other companies. Having worked for du and Mubadala implementing applications and building infrastructures, he decided to go solo.
In December last year, Mohammed became one of 10 regional finalists to present his concept at the SME Congress in Abu Dhabi. He continues to be optimistic about the Spirit of Arabia project but is realistic about an injection of cash being essential to help it realise its full potential.
“The immediate aim now is to capture the attention of the public and investors,” he says. “Once we raise the funding we will open the 3-D store for business and allow customers to purchase our products from anywhere in the world.”