Best Buy is dramatically expanding its demos of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset in a move to spark interest in the pricey headsets ahead of the holidays, Bloomberg reports.
The electronics retailer, which has offered “very limited quantities” of the $599 Oculus Rift unit for sale at Intel Experience shop-in-shops in 48 stores nationwide, is now extending the initiative to 500 U.S. stores. In various locations on a rotating basis, Best Buy will also run 200 demos of Sony’s PlayStation VR gaming system, slated to be released in October.
“The performance of virtual reality at Best Buy will be a very good indicator of how successful the VR movement will be,” Brad Thomas, a retail analyst for Keybanc Capital Markets, told Bloomberg. “We’re hopeful that virtual reality turns into a new traffic driver for Best Buy.”
The Facebook-owned Oculus Rift device, which promises immersive, hyper-realistic graphics, sounds and sensations across gaming and entertainment scenarios, is in short supply because of manufacturing glitches. In addition, the newness of VR experiences and the headset's hefty price tag could be deterrents.
But Best Buy clearly sees potential in the technology. CEO Hubert Joly was bowled over by a near-miss shark attack when he tried out an Oculus Rift himself, Bloomberg notes, and he apparently believes that more consumers will buy in once they get a taste of similar experiences.
There’s already a waiting list for Oculus Rift headsets, the result of both supply shortfalls and the enthusiasm of the gaming crowd. But Best Buy apparently believes (or at least hopes) that consumers beyond gamers will go for the device once they try it. Analysts like Thomas think the retailer is onto something as well.
New traffic drivers are something that Best Buy needs. The retailer wowed investors earlier this week with a surprise second quarter same-store sales increase and boosts to revenue and profits, and has done well through its assertive cost-cutting program, something it says it will continue to focus on. But that can only go so far. Sales of smartphones have fallen as that market has become saturated and tablets as a category have failed to take off because consumers who have them aren’t prone to upgrading or replacing them. Even Best Buy's same-store Q2 sales rise, though impressive in the face of expectations of a 0.4% decline, was less than 1%.
Best Buy has tried betting on new technology in the past: Bloomberg notes that the retailer made a play for 3-D television sales that never panned out. But Best Buy has done well selling other devices, like fitness trackers and smart watches. With so many of its stores providing hands-on opportunities to experience Oculus Rift and other virtual reality devices, consumers will certainly have the chance to test out the technology. The holidays could show whether they’re game, or whether Joly will have to overcome another kind of blood in the water.