Walmart Eyes Virtual Reality Shopping System
Walmart has applied for two patents that detail a “virtual show room” and fulfillment system that would connect shoppers clad in virtual reality (VR) headsets and sensor-packed gloves to a three-dimensional representation of a Walmart store. Customers could wander digital aisles from home and “grab” items, which would be immediately picked and shipped from a fully automated distribution center. The filing is part of Walmart’s recent push into VR, an area that holds promise for brick-and-mortar retailers struggling with the massive costs associated with store upkeep and labor. In February, the retailer acquired Spatialand, a startup that makes software tools to create VR experiences.
Total Retail's Take: Walmart recognizes that Amazon.com is the market leader when it comes to e-commerce, but the traditional brick-and-mortar retailer has proven that it's willing to invest in digital technology to potentially change that. VR represents one of the more hyped retail technologies — even if consumer adoption rates remain low — and Walmart believes the technology can help connect its online and offline businesses. Consider me skeptical of the impact that VR will have on Walmart's business. Walmart's traditional in-store customers have remained loyal to the retailer and, for the most part, continue to shop in that channel. I think it's a stretch to expect Walmart's core demographic — generally rural, lower-to-middle income consumers — to begin using VR headsets in their homes at a high rate. And for younger, tech-savvy consumers — the type of customer that Amazon typically gets and Walmart is trying to get more of — they're not looking at Walmart as an innovative digital brand. Long-held brand perceptions can be tough to change.