Walmart dives into VR with acquisition

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Walmart's innovator division acquires VR startup. (Walmart)

Walmart has acquired VR startup company Spatialand. Officially purchased by Store No 8—the company's technology incubator—the new software platform will create real-time virtual reality experiences for the chain's stores and websites. But are shoppers ready for this in-store experience?

Store No 8's principal, Katie Finnegan, will serve as the interim chief executive of the new company and Spatialand's Kim Cooper and Store No 8's consultant Jeremy Welt will take on senior positions in the new firm. 

The new entity will be Store No 8's third portfolio, following the beginning of Innov8 last summer.  

"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," Katie Finnegan wrote of the new adventure in the Store No 8 blog

So are Walmart's shoppers prepared for this technology?

According to a recent study from InMoment, only 10% of consumers found in-store VR useful and data from the Walker Sands' 2017 Future of Retail study found only 8% of consumers say VR experiences would make them more likely to purchase products online. 

"As with any in-store technology experiment, the customer’s perspective should be central to whether and how it’s deployed," Brennan Wilkie,  senior VP of customer experience strategy at InMoment told FierceRetail. "Brands should ask themselves: How does this make the experience simpler, or more memorable, and how does this new technology differentiate us in alignment with our brand promise? While VR can certainly draw attention to a brand, we have yet to see it successfully deployed in a broader, more practical sense that really benefits the end customer."

Despite this warning, Wilkie admits that the potential for VR to transform the retail industry is exciting. 

"In working with brands looking for intelligence on how to evolve the experience they offer—from VR, to new products—the single most important thing we can help them do is to get and stay close to the sentiment of their customers," he added. 

Pieter Aarts, CEO and co-founder, roOomy, weighed in, calling the acquisition a smart move by Walmart. 

"To be successful in today’s digital era, retailers need to constantly reassess their strategies and implement new solutions to boost the customer experience—and ultimately—ensure brand loyalty and overall sales," he said. 

While Walmart’s specific plans have yet to be released, Aarts notes that the deal will undoubtedly elevate the chain's abilities to provide an enhanced customer journey, as VR offers a variety of unmatched applications that can improve processes in both the front- and back-end. 

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And he anticipates the trend will continue to grow among retailers, as competitors will need to adopt technology in order to win over consumers. And implementing the technology will require one of two approaches: acquiring a partner vendor with AR/VR solutions or developing platforms in-house. 

"No matter the capacity, we’ll without a doubt continue to see retailers turn to VR and AR to heighten their consumer experiences," Aarts said. "Today, current platforms better support purchase decisions and reduce overall return rates, as they allow consumers to virtually try on clothing, visualize how a piece of furniture will look in a space, picture a kitchen remodel and more. In the coming years, the technology will continue to evolve, offering even more abilities for both retailers and consumers and having a monumental impact on the retail industry."

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So which retail spaces will be most impacted by VR and AR in the next few years? According to Aarts, VR and AR are quickly becoming must-have technologies across the retail industry and in the next few years, the home furnishings, real estate and apparel markets will be the most impacted by the innovative technology. With that said, many other retail divisions will be positively affected as well. 

"Whether in stores, online or on a mobile app, consumers will have the ability to overcome visualization barriers and virtually see how a piece of clothing will look without having to try it on, or how a sofa or coffee table will look in a space—completely redefining the ways consumers search for and find products," Aarts said.

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