Walmart Exploring VR Shopping As Amazon Rivalry Heats Up

Walmart is currently exploring virtual reality solutions in the online shopping space, according to two recent filings submitted with the United States Patent and Trademark Office last week. The company applied to secure patents detailing "virtual showrooms" which would allow customers to put on VR headsets and browse visual representations of its stock, with the technology itself being described as highly versatile and suitable for various headgear types. The newly unveiled intellectual property filings were submitted some half a year after Walmart acquired Spatialand, a startup specialized in the creation of VR storefronts. Two months back, the retail giant introduced a VR experience that allows its customers to browse a virtual apartment filled with some 70 pieces of furniture and other products they can purchase.

A concentrated VR push would diversify Walmart's operations that are still largely reliant on brick-and-mortar outlets, with the new development coming at a time when its rivalry with Amazon is heating up in an aggressive manner, though the Seattle-based e-commerce juggernaut is presently going in an opposite direction and wants to bolster its offline presence in the U.S., as evidenced by its acquisition of Whole Foods and efforts to open more automated Amazon Go shops throughout the country. The diametrically opposite expansion strategies are yet another example illustrating why the stateside retail market is far from a zero-sum game and is widely expected to become even more diversified moving forward.

Likewise, there's still no analyst consensus on which technology field is likely to dominate the Western retail segment in the future, provided any particular solution manages to do so. The industry so far gave birth to several promising technologies: automated offline stores, VR storefronts, AR shopping, and voice-enabled retail powered by AI assistants and smart speakers. All of those solutions have the potential to exist on their own or be added to more traditional e-commerce and offline retail setups. While Walmart repeatedly confirmed its VR ambitions in the past, as illustrated by some of the aforementioned examples, the company has yet to share any concrete plans for a full-fledged virtual retail service that encompasses more than just several dozen products.

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