As online shopping becomes more prolific, fewer people are shopping at brick and mortar stores. Malls are turning into ghost towns as consumers are increasingly using products such as smart speakers like the Amazon Echo to make purchases. There’s no need to actually leave home to buy groceries, birthday presents, and other items.
One new way that might entice shoppers is virtual reality. Walmart recently acquired the VR startup Spatialand, which specializes in software tools that turn content into VR experiences, according to PCmag. The retail giant is interested in converting its shopping experience into a virtual environment.
VR is currently hot among gamers, some of whom have dropped $600 on products such as the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset. In addition to being used for entertainment, VR has been used by surgeons and NASA scientists and for automotive development and design. The military has also incorporated VR in its training.
Walmart and Spatialand first started working together in 2017 on Walmart’s Store No. 8 innovation hub. According to a post on the Store No. 8 blog, Spatialand founder Kim Cooper and Jeremy Welt, two “VR experts with deep roots in the entertainment industry,” will lead the new project.
Cooper has lent her expertise to films such as Iron Man and Prometheus, while Welt was instrumental in brokering YouTube’s first commercial deal with Walt Disney Co., according to MarketWatch.
Katie Finnegan, the leader of Store No. 8, noted that the venture won’t be launched for at least five years and potentially not for another decade. She will serve as interim CEO and explained: “The team will develop and explore new products and uses of VR through immersive retail environments that can be incorporated by all facets of Walmart, online and offline.”
VR headsets currently cost several hundred dollars, but 10 years from now they may be more affordable and as common as smartphones. Finnegan says Walmart will unveil its plans with Spatialand in the next 12-18 months.