TheCurrent Debate: What does VR really mean for retail?

Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur

A new feature of TheCurrent Innovators podcast is a monthly discussion between our hosts, Liz Bacelar and Rachel Arthur.

The two of them – also partners of TheCurrent’s innovation consultancy – come across a lot of different technologies, tons of startup entrepreneurs and many big ideas through their day jobs. Doing so means they generate many big opinions of their own – but, unsurprisingly, they don’t always agree. So, they’ve now put what normally stays behind closed doors in the office, on record for podcast listeners.

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In this first episode, the two explore what virtual reality (VR) really means for the retail industry. That comes off the back of recent news that saw Walmart filing for two patents that suggest it will launch a virtual reality-based shopping experience in the future.

The world’s largest retailer detailed the idea of a virtual showroom and a fulfilment system that will enable shoppers to both explore and purchase products using the technology. The news follows Walmart’s acquisition of Spatialand, a software startup focused on creating VR experiences, which now sits within the retailer’s Store No. 8 in-house tech incubator.

What’s more, Alibaba and Amazon are also playing in this space. The latter has already launched an example of VR shopping with Macy’s for Singles Day, while Amazon recently opened 10 virtual reality kiosks in India to promote its Prime Day shopping event.

Walmart VR

Yet, there’s an argument that much of VR, when we’re talking about application beyond gaming and entertainment, really is just gimmick. At a time when there’s little space left for technology for technology’s sake, the question is, are these retailers actually one step ahead of the game, or still just playing with something for the sake of it?

Liz has some strong views on the lack of headset penetration and what that really means for consumer uptake in the longterm, while Rachel argues there’s still space for PR opportunities with such a technology all the same. What it comes down to is relevancy in terms of both business objectives and the target consumer.

Between them they also dive into some further case studies, explore where VR really could impact retail down the line, and jump into the virtues of other technologies in the same space as alternatives.

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Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.