Virtual reality (VR) is a huge industry buzzword at the moment, and Walmart is not afraid to cash in. Their Silicon Valley-based technology incubator, Store No. 8, recently bought VR startup Spatialand for an undisclosed amount in efforts to transform the shopping experience across their retail stores.
Spatialand founder Kim Cooper, along with 10 other employees, join Walmart in the retail giant’s latest buyout. Another change to the management is that Katie Finnegan, Store No. 8’s founder and Walmart’s vice president of incubation and principal serves as the VR company’s interim chief executive officer (CEO).
Head-to-Head with Amazon
The Venice, California-based Spatialand worked with Walmart only last year, eventually leading to the acquisition as Store No. 8’s third portfolio company. This is only the latest in Walmart’s string of digital business acquisitions over the last 18 months, including major names like New Jersey-based e-commerce company Jet.com to lesser-known ones like San Francisco-based online women’s clothing retailer ModCloth.
However, what makes the Spatialand acquisition special is that unlike the other companies they bought which immediately added to Walmart’s online sales, this one is more targeted to creating new technology – tech that does not necessarily bring in a payoff in the short term.
As Store No. 8 is Walmart’s innovation cluster, Spatialand now belongs to a collective of entrepreneurs with countless bold ideas, developing groundbreaking retail tech that may give Amazon a run for their money.
Going head to head in what is probably the biggest battle in retail, both companies are unafraid to take bold risks. Recently, Amazon launched Amazon Go, the automated grocery with its flagship store in Seattle officially open to the public since late January. Walmart is jumping on the idea, currently developing both a personal shopping service and a cashier-free store
While Amazon’s stock went up over 60% by the end of 2017, Walmart also soared to a 40% increase in their shares. Amazon’s boost came mostly from healthy sales, but Walmart’s came from its undeniable growth in online commerce.
Other bold steps Walmart took to try and lock horns with Amazon include buying menswear brand Bonobos for $310 million, and outdoor gear and activewear seller Moosejaw for $51 million, both of which occurred last year.
VR Development in Stealth Mode
The camp has been hush about the new tech they are developing. Finnegan released a statement saying, “we will continue to evolve this technology and develop new product exploration through immersive retail environments.”
Between many VR companies creating names for themselves today, and Spatialand keeping quiet about what they are doing in terms of VR in relation to retail, for now it remains a mystery if there truly is a competitor for what they are doing.
For example, NextVR from Newport Beach, California showcases the use of VR for live video for big names like NBA and Fox Sports. AltspaceVR from Redwood City, California, allows people to socialize and “meet” with people around the world, and Microsoft acquired the company late last year.
Jaunt from San Mateo, California specializes in immersive VR, augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality content. Baobab Studios, also from Redwood City, creates animated VR stories, and even won an Emmy Award for their film “Invasion!” starring Ethan Hawke.
The future of retail is still transforming thanks to immersive tech, so how they use and apply VR may possibly forever alter the online retail experience as we know it. With a wide range of use for VR technologies as above, only time will tell what Walmart and their Spatialand people will come up with in the next decade.