Walmart Wants You To Shop Their Stores in Virtual Reality
Walmart is perhaps Amazon’s only real competition, and now Walmart is looking to make more aggressive moves into the digital shopping experience by creating a fully functional virtual reality shopping experience. The giant retailer has filed two patents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. One of the patents is for the creation of a virtual reality shopping system, and the second is a robot fulfillment center technology that completes the proposed VR purchase.
Virtual reality shopping experiences are not new, but they have never been really functional as Jon Fingas in Engadget explained.
“Most current VR shopping experiences are novelties—they’re frequently about advertising more than helping you make informed decisions. If Walmart can make VR shopping practical, even in niche cases, that could be a significant step forward,” said Fingas.
Shoppers Using Walmart’s VR Shopping System Can Experience Simulated Sensory Feedback
According to experts, Walmart’s two new patents would enable online customers to use VR gear to search for products, select what they want, make purchases, and have robots fulfill the orders and prepare them for shipment.
To describe the experience, shoppers would put on a VR headset and wear sensor gloves and then visit a Walmart shopping store fully represented in 3D. Once a shopper comes across what they want, they grab it and it gets processed from the automatic distribution center with the help of dedicated robots.
The robots come with articulated arms, and they can take ordered items off the shelves in a physical location and place them in containers ready for shipment to the customer. According to the filed patents, the fulfillment centers will be equipped with smart-shelves so that inventory of products can be digitally evaluated at all times.
To further enhance the shopping experience, Walmart intends for shoppers to enjoy a 360-degree view of desired products and even experience sensory feedback of the product’s “weight, temperature, shape, texture, moisture, force, resistance, mass, density, size, sound, taste and smell” using sensor-laden gloves.
For instance, a shopper with sensor gloves would experience a simulated movement and resistance of a lawnmower as if they are actually operating one under various environmental conditions or they could feel the texture of a product.
Reviews of Walmart’s virtual reality shopping concept were mixed with some lauding the idea of replacing simple point and click online shopping with a more enriched sensory experience as potentially revolutionary. Others like Cohen Coberly in TechSpot said it was unclear what practical purpose would be served. “Users can already buy virtually any product Walmart carries directly from its website, and that process is probably much faster than walking around a virtual store could ever be.”
One of the biggest downfalls of online shopping, however, has always been how buying a product is sometimes a roll of the dice because it’s hard to evaluate the color, size, texture, material and so on. If Walmart’s VR system could solve that, it could change the nature of online shopping.
One question remains though, how would a consumer get their hands on a VR head set and sensory gloves?