Manufacturers of all stripes know the retail landscape is changing at a breakneck pace, making it difficult to keep up.
Walmart, however, has taken it even further. The retail titan has applied for two patents for a “virtual store” and fulfillment system that includes VR headsets and sensor gloves, Bloomberg reported. The system would allow shoppers to traverse a digital store and “pick up” items they need. Whatever customers select would be pulled and shipped through an automated distribution system.
Anyone who’s ever been to Walmart knows it can be chaotic, with difficult-to-navigate aisles and long lines. I tend to avoid Walmart for those very reasons. And it seems Walmart understands the predicament.
"Walmart knows that its stores are too big and unwieldy for people," Zoe Leavitt, a managing analyst at patent researcher CB Insights, told Bloomberg.
I’m all for technological advances, and this seems to be the next logical step after in-store pickup and home delivery. In the end, convenience is a major aspect of capturing retail dollars.
However, Walmart might be ahead of itself. I’m assuming consumers will have to purchase the headset and gloves. Will they be cost prohibitive? Will they be easy to use? How will the VR setting affect customers’ ability to browse?
That’s particularly important to candy, since so often it’s an impulse purchase. Consumers already spend just seconds scanning shelves, making eye-catching packaging imperative. Standup pouches have played a role in growing sales, but what sort of packaging changes, if any, will manufacturers have to make to accommodate VR shopping?
As Bloomberg noted, these patent filings come as online retail giants are attempting to expand their brick-and-mortar footprints. Amazon led the charge by purchasing Whole Foods last year, and it has been experimenting with cashierless stores.
It shows that having a balanced retail approach, with strong online and in-store infrastructure, is the key to success in retail. While Walmart develops VR capabilities, it should continue to improve its in-store experience, whether that means shortening line wait times, changing store layouts or widening aisles.
After all, you have to learn how to walk before you can virtually run.