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Wal-Mart Looks to See If Virtual Shopping Is Better Than the Real Thing

Wal-Mart has spent billions buying up websites like Jet.com and ModCloth, and is investing in new technology as it goes head-to-head with Amazon.com. Now, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is setting its sights on virtual reality.

Imagine this, says Katie Finnegan, who heads Wal-Mart's tech incubator: You need a tent for your next camping trip. If all goes to plan, you could one day virtually swoop in to your campsite and see any given tent in action. "You could unzip it, lay down, look left and right and say, 'Oh, this is supposed to be a two-person tent? It's kind of tight,' " she said.

And then you could move on to the next tent - without leaving your couch.

“There is a lot of technology we’re excited about,” Finnegan said, “but virtual reality in particular offers an opportunity to actually experience products and items in an immersive way.”

The technology has yet to catch on with the mainstream, so such concepts are still in the gee-whiz stage with no guarantee of boosting sales. But this summer, the company put out an open call for technology firms, venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs to submit their ideas. A panel of five judges — including Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global; and Marc Lore, head of Wal-Mart’s U.S. e-commerce operations — whittled the 200 applicants to five winners. They then spent about two months at Wal-Mart’s technology incubator, called Store No 8, coming up with new shopping-centric applications for virtual reality.

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Imagine this, says Katie Finnegan, who heads Wal-Mart's tech incubator: You need a tent for your next camping trip. If all goes to plan, you could one day virtually swoop in to your campsite and see any given tent in action. "You could unzip it, lay down, look left and right and say, 'Oh, this is supposed to be a two-person tent? It's kind of tight,' " she said.

And then you could move on to the next tent - without leaving your couch.

“There is a lot of technology we’re excited about,” Finnegan said, “but virtual reality in particular offers an opportunity to actually experience products and items in an immersive way.”

The technology has yet to catch on with the mainstream, so such concepts are still in the gee-whiz stage with no guarantee of boosting sales. But this summer, the company put out an open call for technology firms, venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs to submit their ideas. A panel of five judges — including Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global; and Marc Lore, head of Wal-Mart’s U.S. e-commerce operations — whittled the 200 applicants to five winners. They then spent about two months at Wal-Mart’s technology incubator, called Store No 8, coming up with new shopping-centric applications for virtual reality.

Opens external link in new windowRead Full Article