Retail

The Void: Can Virtual Reality Save Malls?

virtual reality

Location-based virtual reality (VR) startup The Void is partnering with mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) to open 25 new entertainment outposts in the U.S. and Europe by 2022. 

Four temporary pop-ups are opening in August and September in New York, San Diego, San Francisco and in the Las Angeles suburb Santa Anita, CNBC reports.

“People hear ‘VR’ and they think it’s a gimmick, it’s a fad, it’s not for me,” The Void Co-Founder and CFO Curtis Hickman said in the report. “But anybody can do this. We make it easy for everybody. This is the future of entertainment.”

Program themes will be “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire” and “Ralph Breaks VR.” 

The Utah-based startup already has 11 locations running globally, including in Malaysia and Dubai. In addition to the URW deal, three more U.S. locations are planned later in 2019 in Minnesota, Virginia and Atlanta, according to the report.

Permanent locations are coming to the U.S. before opening in Paris, London and Stockholm. Everything is expected to be completed by 2022. URW is the biggest commercial landlord in Europe.

“Entertainment is a really strong component of the destination malls,” URW President U.S. Jean-Marie Tritant told the news outlet.

Customers will pay $35 to experience a physical sensation that they are in a movie. With the planned “Star Wars” theme, for example, participants can feel like they are in a room with a Darth Vader battle scene, complete with temperature changes and weather effects. 

“We get people going to the mall … to buy some jeans, and then they find themselves in the middle of ‘Star Wars,’” Hickman said. “But a lot of people go to The Void as a destination. It’s how you’re spending your weekend or date night.”

More retailers are leaving malls than ever before as online shopping soars and debt-ridden chains collapse. Household names like Sears and Victoria’s Secret are among the 7,400-plus stores closing in 2019.

VR is expected to generate $1.8 billion for retail and marketing in the year 2022, with revenues from VR initiatives expected to increase by 3,000 percent over the next four years. The number of VR users more than doubled in 2018, growing from 85 million to 171 million.

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