The patent filings do not guarantee that the retailer will ever build or deploy the technology described in those documents, but they do show how the retailer is envisioning future shopping.
One of the filings describes a VR headset “paired with sensor-laden gloves that would allow consumers to interact with a Walmart store in a virtual world,” according to CB Insights. The second patent involves a system in which robots, working in a fulfillment center, would located items on shelves as consumers use VR technology to put goods into virtual baskets. The robots would then place those items into containers for shipment.
“These fulfillment centers would also utilize smart shelves to monitor inventory in real time, according to the patent,” the report said.
These patents are not Walmart’s first moves into VR. In December, the retailer filed a patent that described “a network of physical virtual reality shopping stations almost like pods, which could be set up in shopping malls, office buildings, campuses and other areas,” the report said. “Users would step into the small pod and face a virtual reality interface that could make it seem like they were inside a full-size Walmart store.”
Those pods could be sponsored by specific brands, too.
Virtual reality, if ever deployed, could potentially give Walmart more retail fuel in its competition with rivals, most notably Amazon. The retailer might already have an underrated edge in that effort.
Last week, former Walmart CEO Bill Simon said the retailer’s big brick-and-mortar network of stores gives it an underrated edge against Amazon in a multichannel world where consumers want smooth online-to-offline commerce experiences.