Walmart is accelerating tech investments with the acquisition of Spatialand, a virtual reality (VR) software startup, through its Store No 8 technology and innovation incubator.
The big-box retailer has been investing heavily in digital technologies to close the gap with Amazon and elevate its profile with consumers. Walmart sees an opportunity to differentiate by engaging shoppers with technology when the context is right.
“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,” Katie Finnegan, principal and founder of Store No 8 and VP of incubation at Walmart, wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. She pointed out that much of the development in VR has focused on entertainment and the gaming industry, effectively “ignoring the range of possibilities available in retail.”
The startup is tasked with discovering new uses for VR that Walmart can implement in both its physical and digital channels, according to the blog post.
Last summer, Spatialand, which will become Store No 8’s third portfolio company, created a VR experience that virtually transported users to a Yosemite National Park campsite, presenting outdoor gear such as tents for engagement and interaction so that customers could evaluate if they were a good fit.
Store No 8 showed off a number of VR applications at its inaugural Innov8 gala in southern California last fall, held in partnership with Accenture as strategic innovation advisor and Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington’s wellness-focused tech company. The event included Bonobos and ModCloth, some of Walmart’s more recent fashion-forward and millennial-focused acquisitions, using VR to create photorealistic holograms of people and using just a smartphone to create 3-D product images, respectively.
Spatialand’s software toolkit enables creators to bring their content to the VR environment. Spatialand CEO Kim Cooper, a double Emmy nominee, has worked on VR projects for Reebok, Intel and Oculus as well as blockbuster films such as “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Iron Man.”
According to Orbis Research, the virtual reality market could be worth more than $40 billion by 2020. In November, Amazon debuted Sumerian, an iOS toolkit to help coders develop VR-based applications.