The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has applied for patents that envision a virtual showroom and a fulfillment center that would allow people to put on a headset and shop in a digital version of the store. Customers could browse and interact with merchandise through a 3D simulation that responds to their gestures, the filings indicate. And in turn, the simulations could generate sensory feedback such as the feeling of moisture, heat, force and wind, as users manipulate the items. The filing for the fulfillment center includes plans for autonomous robots to fetch and deliver merchandise that a user interacts with in a 3D simulation with hand controls.
While the company has applied to patent these systems, it doesn’t mean the plans for a virtual shopping experience will come to fruition. Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Bloomberg earlier reported on the patent filings.
The patent filings, published last week, come as the world’s largest retailer has pushed to develop technologies to keep pace with consumers’ shifting preferences. Two years ago, Walmart announced it would close 154 stores in the United States. But the company has invested heavily to boost its online operations and compete with rival Amazon.com. Walmart spent $3.3 billion in 2016 to acquire Jet.com, an online retailer. The company said last week in its earnings report that online sales grew 40 percent.
Walmart also launched an initiative to foster start-up companies with the goal of developing cutting-edge technology for the future of e-commerce and retail. As part of that effort, Walmart acquired Spatialand, a virtual reality company whose software can transform existing content into virtual experiences. Walmart’s startup incubator is designed to drive the company’s development of enhanced online shopping, 3D imaging, and virtual reality product testing.
Earlier this year, Amazon patented a special mirror that allows users to see how they look trying on virtual clothes by combining images reflected by the mirror and images transmitted through the mirror from a screen behind it.