While everyday use of virtual reality in retail may be a few years off, Walmart and its Store No. 8 innovation and incubator division are looking to get ahead of the curve with the acquisition of startup Spatialand, according to the company.
Spatialand’s software tool lets users turn content into immersive experiences, the stock-in-trade of VR.
Spatialand worked with Store No. 8 on a project last year, according to a blog post from Katie Finnegan, principal and founder of Store No. 8 and vice president of incubation at Walmart, announcing the acquisition. This included a VR proof-of-concept built by Spatialand founder Kim Cooper and her team, along with Store No. 8 consultant, Jeremy Welt, culminating in a live demo at Store No. 8’s Innov8 VR event.
MCM Musings: Augmented reality is here today in many guises in retail and ecommerce, in stores, online and in fulfillment center operations, aiding and guiding consumers, associates and FC workers. Applications include creating virtual furniture displays in a home setting a la Wayfair, L’Oreal and others, or directing pickers to stock locations in a warehouse, as DHL Supply Chain has been testing.
But VR will open up whole new vistas in commerce, allowing consumers to “live” an experience with a product before they buy. Up until now the technology has mostly been seen as a cool toy that puts you in virtual scenarios like summiting Mount Everest or racing around the track at the Indianapolis 500.
There are arguments being made that VR is more of a tool for retailers, while AR is focused mostly on consumers. But getting immersive with brands and their products could prove to be a strong pull for consumers, creating another way for retailers to differentiate themselves, drive loyalty and reinvent the customer journey.
Finnegan obviously agrees with the latter assessment.
“ ‘VR’ is an industry buzzword right now,” Finnegan said in her blog. “And the majority of the technology that has been created in this space has been focused on the development of hardware and content for spaces such as gaming and entertainment, ignoring the range of possibilities available in retail. At our core, we are merchandisers and storytellers which drives us to believe that virtual reality has the potential to reinvent the consumer experience—with an experience we call contextual commerce.”