Malls and shops across the world have closed their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. But shopaholics in China can now continue their favorite pastime in virtual reality.

China’s high-end shopping mall chain K11 is trying to keep customers coming in by offering them a 360-degree panorama tour through its mall in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. All you need to do to access it is open up a WeChat mini program. Since I’ve been stuck at home for the past few weeks, I decided to take a tour myself.

The most interesting thing to me about the K11 VR experience is that it actually lets you buy the products you see… well, most of the time, anyway. This is in contrast to most virtual tours, which might look pretty but can rarely replace the real experience. But K11 lets visitors virtually visit 46 brand stores and browse goods along ailes as they would in the actual stores.

What I learned during this virtual mall tour is that I want all of the Lego. (Picture: K11)

But while shopping in a Lego store will offer you a selection of dozens of products that you can buy, a clothing store might not list any items. This makes sense since there’s still no way to see how fat I might look in a virtual dress.

I guess there are people who spend US$1,000 on jackets they never tried on. (Picture: K11)

While strolling around the mall, I also noticed there are other stores that are “empty.” They’ll show you products on the shelves, but there’s nothing there you can interact with and buy. Fortunately, most of the gadget stores seemed equipped with a functional online store.

Visiting a gift shop only lets me contact a sales clerk, but DJI, GoPro and Sonos let me buy their products in their virtual stores. (Picture: K11)

So is this the future of shopping? That might depend on how much the pandemic changes shopping habits in the future. For now, being stuck at home makes this kind of virtual experience more compelling.

Companies have tried VR shopping in the past, but it never seemed to stick. Amazon introduced VR kiosks in several malls back in 2018, and Alibaba offered a virtual experience called Buy+ in 2016 that used a cardboard VR headset combined with a smartphone. Neither effort has transformed how we shop with these companies.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba)

The coronavirus is also giving a boost to VR in other industries. China has seen property developers offering virtual house tours and HTC held a VR conference in VR.

K11’s virtual mall is also getting attention despite having limited features. It’s already seen 200,000 visitors within a month, according to local media reports. The mall launched in beta at the end of February, but its virtual grand opening wasn’t until March 27.