Walmart’s (WMT) tech shopping spree continues apace.
The big box discount chain said in a blog post early Tuesday that it had bought a virtual reality startup, Spatialand, as a cornerstone of its strategy to develop technology that it’s betting will eventually reshape how shopping takes places both in its stores and online. It is the latest acquisition by Walmart, which in the last year and a half has bought digital businesses ranging from big like Jet.com to much smaller ones such as online retailer Modcloth.
But unlike those, which immediately lifted Walmart’s online sales, the Spatialand acquisition is aimed at building tech that won’t offer a payoff in any short term. Instead, Spatialand is working with Walmart’s Silicon Valley-based tech incubator, Store No. 8, an initiative launched last year as an in-house innovation cluster whose entrepreneurs enjoy autonomy from Walmart’s Bentonville corporate office, to develop the retail tech it wants in the next decade to go toe-to-toe with Amazon.com (AMZN)more effectively.
Spatialand creates software that enables the transformation of already created content into something immersive. Katie Finnegan, who is managing Store No. 8, acknowledged in a blog post that VR is something of a “buzzword” right now with applications associated with entertainment and gaming. But she sees enormous potential to reshape retail. “At our core, we are merchandisers and storytellers which drives us to believe that virtual reality has the potential to reinvent the consumer experience,” she wrote.
Walmart didn’t disclose how much it paid for Spatialand but with 10 employees, it’s unlikely the startup was pricey. Store No. 8, so named in a nod to an early Walmart store that served as a test store for the chain decades ago, is also developing a personal shopping service as well as a cashier-free store. The retailer’s e-commerce efforts took on new energy in the last 18 months since jet.com founder Marc Lore took the reins of Walmart U.S.’s digital business. In its most recent quarter, Walmart U.S.’s online sales rose 50%.