- Marc Lore, the CEO of Walmart’s e-commerce division, believes the brand’s future will be built around virtual reality (VR) technology and voice assistants, according to a report from Fast Company.
- “Voice is the next big way for us to be able to leverage data from a person’s car, home, or device,” Lore said on Oct. 26 at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. “It will allow them to shop in a very conversational way with a robot, in the same that they would with a specialist on a showroom floor of a retailer. And that robot will know you as well as your mom or dad.”
- These emerging technologies will alter the retail space and the shopping experience overall, leading to more immersive and interactive moments that brands can tailor to the consumer's individual tastes and preferences, said Lore, who founded Jet.com before it was acquired by Walmart last year.
Though Lore admitted to looking at least a decade into the future of retail, he said he's planning for a future where consumers can experience in-store interactions via VR in their homes. Several brands like Ikea have already begun to integrate VR into their shopping experiences with a virtual test kitchen that lets visitors try out appliances — a smart move as 70% to 80% of early tech adopters are interested in using VR to enhance their shopping experience, according to a survey by L.E.K. Consulting. These consumers said they're eager to use the emerging tech for home improvement projects, virtually trying on clothes and taking shopping trips with friends who aren't physically present.
One challenge keeping companies from embracing the tech early on is the general high cost of the VR hardware, such as Facebook's $400 Oculus headset. Healthy competition, according to Lore, will likely eventually drive those costs down and make the tech more accessible to smaller brands. By partnering with retailers for VR promotions, marketers can spark greater levels of excitement from consumers as the format is shown to drive higher levels of engagement and emotional response compared to more traditional ads.
On the voice front, more companies have begun to integrate the tech in the past year. Just this month, Walmart announced a partnership with Google, letting customers shop more than two million Walmart.com items via voice through the Google Home and new Google Home Mini devices. According to Lore, voice assistants like Siri and Alexa are somewhat of a gateway into technology-enhanced shopping experiences, as consumers have become accustomed to using their voice for tasks through smartphone assistants over the past few years.
Many voice-activated virtual assistants are now available to consumers, and even more are planned. In addition to those we know about, many retailers have surely tested voice shopping capabilities in one way or another. However, aligning with Google may have given Walmart the fastest, most scalable way of getting there.
From a marketer's perspective, integrating these emerging technologies into retail strategies, in particular, will likely ease consumers' shopping journey and boost sales. And, at least according to the L.E.K. survey, consumers appear to be more than willing to give VR and voice a spin, signaling to retailers like Walmart that the often hefty investment associated with integrating the technology could be worth it.