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Walmart pushes VR retail forward with new patents

Walmart has filed for two patents that suggest it will launch a virtual reality-based shopping experience, competing with the likes of Alibaba and Amazon, who are already playing in the space.

Walmart is launching VR shopping
Walmart is launching VR shopping

Walmart has filed for two patents that suggest it will launch a virtual reality-based shopping experience.

The world’s largest retailer has detailed the idea of a virtual show room and a fulfilment system that will enable shoppers to purchase via VR, according to filings with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The experience will see users wearing both a headset and sensor-enabled gloves to explore a three-dimensional representation of a Walmart store. From there they can “pick up” the merchandise they want to buy, then add it to a queue to have it immediately shipped from an automated distribution center.

The news follows Walmart’s acquisition of Spatialand, a software startup focused on creating VR experiences, in February 2018. It sits within Store No. 8, Walmart’s in-house tech incubator.

The jury is still out on the longterm application for VR within retail, with many sceptics suggesting mass consumers won’t wear a headset to enter a digital representation of a physical store anytime soon. But there’s also promise in the idea of having more experiential access to such a wide range of merchandise from home, above and beyond what the web currently brings, and that’s especially the case when you can touch and feel the items. It also brings potential cost savings for retail in a time of increasing store closures.

Other retailers playing this game notably include Amazon and Alibaba. The latter has already launched an example of VR shopping with Macy’s for Singles Day, while Amazon is also hinting at something similar in the pipeline.

This isn’t the first patent Walmart has filed under the header of virtual reality either. Previous focus has ranged from virtual conference calls to an unattended retail storefront.

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By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.