Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are dominating conversations as the next big trend in tech. American retail multinational Walmart too has thrown its hat into the ring with the acquisition of Spatialand, a small startup that could become the lynchpin of the large corporation’s ambitious VR plans.
Spatialand makes software tools that help turn existing content and environments into fully immersive virtual reality experiences. Given Walmart’s sprawling retail real-estate and plans to push into new markets where it doesn’t have a physical presence yet, Spatialand’s solutions offer a great way to create virtual store environments for users to browse and shop in. Spatialand founder Kim Cooper and her small 10-man team will join Walmart as part of the deal for an undisclosed amount.
The last couple of years have seen a slight shift away from VR into more AR-oriented applications, as the success of projects like Niantic’s Pokemon Go and Ikea’s Ikea Place has driven a rapid rise in interest in the space. Virtually every major tech giant has an AR-oriented product as part of their portfolio now, from Google’s ARCore to Apple’s ARKit to Facebook’s ARStudio. However, Walmart appears to be aiming at a slightly long-term timeline for the fruits of Spatialand’s labours.
Spatialand worked with Walmart’s incubator Store No. 8 on a project last year which resulted in a proof-of-concept VR experience for shoppers. The project’s success led to Spatialand’s acquisition, and Store No. 8 principal Katie Finnegan will serve as interim CEO on the new VR company at Walmart.
In an interview, Katie said her group is “focused on retail experiences that may not go mainstream for five to 10 years”. While declining to offer specifics on what Spatialand will create for Walmart, she did add that the team’s outputs may not be visible “for 12-18 months”. Judging by these timelines, Walmart appears to be aiming to create products for a future time when the cost of VR products has reduced and the tech has become as widespread and common as smartphone AR apps are today.
Kim is hopeful of her future at Walmart and the future of VR in retail. In a blog post, she wrote, “The future of retail is transforming every day due to the exponential incorporation of virtual reality technology...Retail is only one of the first sectors to undergo this shift; soon, not only will product design be heavily influenced by immersive tech, but consumers will also begin to directly reap the rewards as well.”
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