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Why Walmart Just Acquired A Virtual Reality Start Up

Why Walmart Just Acquired A Virtual Reality Start Up

The company is upping the ante in its ongoing war with Amazon to dominate and transform the retail landscape.

Walmart is stepping up its virtual reality game with its newest acquisition as part of its hush-hush Store No 8 innovation hub which aims to elevate and personalize everyday shopping and drive technological innovation in the retail space.

The company announced Tuesday that it has acquired small virtual reality start up Spatialand, which will be the centerpiece of Walmart’s VR efforts which it hopes will transform the shopping experience across all the company’s various stores and websites.

The tiny and little-known start up specializes in software that turns existing content into immersive, virtual reality experiences. But Walmart and Spatialand aren’t strangers. The two companies worked together last year to create a proof-of-concept virtual reality experience that took a stab at presenting the future of shopping at the Innov8 VR event.

“At our core, we are merchandisers and storytellers which drives us to believe that virtual reality has the potential to reinvent the consumer experience – with an experience we call contextual commerce,” Walmart’s Store No 8 stated in its announcement of the acquisition.

Spatialand’s founder, Kim Cooper, and the company’s 10 employees will join Walmart as part of the deal. Katie Finnegan, who currently oversees the Store No 8 incubator, will serve as interim CEO of the new virtual reality company.

Walmart’s purchase of the VR company comes at a time when augmented reality, not virtual reality, has been gaining popularity as the next-generation technology that’s expected to transform at-home shopping. In an interview, Store No 8’s Finnegan said that the incubator is focused on retail experiences that may not go mainstream in the next decade, and that she believes VR may be in that bucket.

But don’t expect to hear much about what’s in store any time soon. The new venture will operate in stealth mode for at least 12 to 18 months according to Finnegan. However, the general plan is to use VR to produce “immersive retail environments that can be incorporated by all facets of Walmart, online and offline,” Finnegan wrote.

“At the core, we are about what the customer journey is and how do we make that experience magical,” Finnegan said to Inc. in January. “Tech enables that, and it might mean we build the tech ourselves, or we will leverage [another company’s] tech to do that.” Finnegan also pointed to an example where Walmart could one day have in-store virtual reality kiosks where customers could view and show for any item in the company’s inventory.

This acquisition is believed to be a relatively small one, though financial details of the deal were not disclosed. Spatialand’s VR expertise joins several other Store No 8 projects including a personal shopping service led by Rent the Runway founder Jenny Fleiss, and an initiative to build a cashier less store like Amazon’s new Amazon Go store which will be run by co-founder Mike Hanrahan.

As Walmart’s ambitious Store No 8 continues to push the boundaries of our future shopping experiences in an effort to disrupt the retail sector, one has to wonder who they’ll acquire next. Stay tuned.

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