Walmart’s Store No 8 innovation unit is working with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and Accenture on a nationwide competition for early-stage developers of virtual reality solutions, which will culminate in an invitation-only exhibition of selected solutions in Los Angeles in October, Walmart announced in a press release Wednesday.
The program, Innov8: V-commerce, is seeking applications from companies that “are developing technologies and content that will shape the future of commerce in virtual reality,” according to a Walmart statement. Selected winners will receive capital to fund development costs and strategic advice during incubation of the concept, along with an opportunity to work with Walmart, Jet.com, Thrive Global and other retail partners.
Innov8’s Board will include: Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce/founder of Jet.com; Katie Finnegan and Seth Beal, principals of Store No 8; Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global; Marc Carrel-Billiard, senior managing director of Accenture Labs; Jason Welsh, managing director of Accenture Interactive; Kirsten Green, general partner of Forerunner Ventures; and Tipatat Chennavasin, general partner of the Virtual Reality Fund.
Another day, another incubator program emerges to reinvent the retail sector. Programs like Target + Techstars, Walmart's Open Call and Amazon's Alexa accelerator (and most recently its developer learning series) undeniably help small firms and startups get high-level professional advice and a boost onto a high-profile stage, and the Innov8: V-commerce effort from Walmart Store No 8 and partners is cut from the same cloth.
However, any retailer hosting these kinds of program is also doing so for its own gain, either to later invest in the best companies and concepts to emerge from these programs, or to put themselves in a good position to leverage and/or sell concepts and products they couldn't develop in-house.
Which brings us to virtual reality. The particular program for early-stage VR developers comes at a time when several retailers have invested a great deal in the success of VR, both as a technology for internal use and as a technology product to sell their customers. Yet, the VR market still hasn't paid off to the degree anyone has hoped; 2016 was widely seen as a potential breakthrough year, but sales of headsets remain unimpressive (forcing firms like Facebook to cut the price of its Oculus Rift and retailers like Best Buy to reduce the number of pop-up demonstrations in stores). VR just hasn't found its way into the mainstream.
Walmart was not among retailers on the cutting edge of VR investment, but it did recently start using VR for its own internal training purposes, and it may now be looking to reboot the market fortunes of a technology it believes in. Using the phrase "V-commerce," not to be confused with e-commerce or m-commerce, may show where the ambitions of Walmart and its partners lay, though even if they spot some VR diamonds in the rough and polish them up for public viewing later this year, VR remains very much a work in progress for retail.