Facebook is shutting down Oculus Rift virtual reality pop-up demonstrations at about 200 of the 500 Best Buy stores where they have been running since late last year, according to Business Insider.
Some individuals running the Best Buy pop-ups told Business Insider that sometimes several days would pass before someone came by for a demo.
Best Buy spokeswoman Carly Charlson told the publication that stores no longer offering demos will continue to sell the Oculus Rift headset and accompanying touch controllers.
It seemed like a very good sign for Facebook and its Oculus unit when Best Buy last August expanded VR demonstrations from 48 stores to about 500. Even we told you that the expanded demos could be a key event fueling virtual reality's imminent mainstream market breakthrough. Now, there seems to be good reason to question if that breakthrough will happen, at least for the $600 headsets that Oculus is trying to sell at Best Buy.
Expense certainly could be one reason why consumers haven't been so interested in these demos, at least at some Best Buy stores. People might be thinking, "Why should I check out something I can't afford?" The Oculus Rift headset isn't the only VR headset around, after all, and Google and others have come up with much cheaper viewing tools.
But the lack of activity may have to do with more than just expense. Maybe it isn't VR's shining moment after all, at least where VR as a consumer entertainment product is concerned. Retailers are investigating ways of using VR as a marketing tool, and we could see more of that activity happening through this year.
Meanwhile, for Best Buy, the demos have been one component of its larger store-within-a-store concept. Lack of interest in the Oculus Rift doesn't necessarily mean that concept isn't paying off: In fact, Best Buy has made many positive comments about these in-store pop-ups in the past, but the retailer obviously wants to pursue them with partners whose displays and demos can generate additional in-store traffic. Reportedly, traffic to these specific demos declined sharply after the holiday shopping rush passed.
This seems like a developing situation, and it will be worth watching to see what courses of action both Facebook and Best Buy take next. Facebook still seems bullish on VR, and could very well re-focus its efforts on other sales channels (perhaps even its own retail channel). Best Buy may stick with store-within-a-store promotions, but maybe it will look for other ways to use the space being occupied by Oculus demos. One thing is clear: Going from 48 stores to 500 seemed like a breakthrough; going from 500 down to 300 seems like a big step backward.