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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.

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.

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Anya Hindmarch launches immersive Chubby Cloud installation at LFW

Anya Hindmarch - Chubby Cloud
Anya Hindmarch – Chubby Cloud

Accessories designer Anya Hindmarch launched an immersive, consumer-facing installation called Chubby Cloud at London Fashion Week this past weekend. 

Located in Banqueting House near Trafalagar Square, the designer created the world’s largest beanbag – meant to represent a “chubby cloud” – for visitors to relax and recuperate, and to enjoy the “fun” side of fashion. 

Hindmarch’s vision for the experience was to engage with people in an untraditional format. Visitors who arrived at pre-booked time slots were invited to slip into a protective suit with matching sock covers, before being escorted into the social media worthy room. Unsurprisingly, for that very reason, the only item allowed to accompany them was a mobile phone.

Once on the beanbag, guests were invited to lie back, enjoy the ceiling painted by artist Ruben, and then relax through a guided meditation.

To make the experience truly unique, a series of special events were also hosted on the Chubby Cloud – all connected to the theme of relaxation, meditation and mindfulness. Highlights included guest appearances from celebrity stars Poppy Delevingne reading a bedtime story, and a guided morning meditation by mindfulness brand Happy not Perfect.

The move comes following Anya Hindmarch Chubby Hearts installation, in February 2018, which saw giant red hearts floating over a number of historic London sites. The designer has been innovating the established retail schedule since last year, launching see-now-buy-now collections as well as replacing runway shows with interactive experiences.

Post Chubby Cloud experience, guests were also able to snack on themed cupcakes and pastries in the Chubby Cloud Café. Souvenirs, as well as exclusive items from the Chubby Cloud collection, were also available for purchase at a Chubby Cloud store.

Ticket sales from the experience went to not-for-profit organization, Historic Royal Palaces, which supports the maintenance and upkeep of venues such as Banqueting House. 

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.