Best Buy has long been one of the best places to give premium virtual reality products a try, thanks to a partnership with Oculus to put pop-up Rift demo stations in 500 stores, but 200 of those stores are losing their demo stations, reportedly due to waning consumer interest. Best Buy stores were reporting a serious lull in interest and sales after the holidays, with some stores not delivering a demo of the Oculus Rift hardware for days on end. Sales of the headsets seemed to reflect this. Even during the holidays, it was reported that some stores were only selling a handful of headsets each week. While Best Buy remains one of Oculus' premier brick and mortar retail partners, close to half of the demo stations at Best Buy's stores across the US and Canada will be affected by this cutback.
Best Buy's CEO, during their third quarter earnings call for 2016, said that about 300,000 total VR demos had been proctored across all 500 stores, and across two platforms; Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR. Since the Oculus Rift demo units had first started cropping up in May of 2016 with PlayStation VR following in June, that equates to somewhere around 600 demos per store, across a 9 month period, meaning roughly 67 VR demos per month. Since that number includes PlayStation VR, the low performance figures for Oculus demos that Best Buy employees were passing around are quite feasible.
While the closure will mean that Best Buy customers can no longer check out Oculus VR at affected locations, the availability of live VR demos in general is still pretty fair. One could stop by a Microsoft store, some specialty PC stores or even game stores, and of course arcades, to get a taste of premium VR and see if it's worth buying in with a beefy gaming computer and expensive headset. While the price of VR-ready systems has gone down a bit with NVIDIA's introduction of their GTX 10-series GPUs, it's still quite a significant investment, even if you already have a gaming PC and are only buying the headset and controllers. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Oculus' owner, Facebook, has said that the VR ecosystem will probably not reach true profitability for quite some time, so pitfalls for the niche and nascent technology are to be expected and can largely be looked at as growing pains.