Store No. 8 is putting its money on virtual reality.The Wal-Mart Stores Inc.-supported Store No. 8 and Arianna Huffington's Thrive Global on Wednesday revealed the launch of a competition for the VR community, Innov8: V-Commerce, to uncover applications for immersive retail experiences. Accenture is a strategic innovation adviser to the competition, which has the lofty goal of finding "ideas with the potential to change the way people shop and live."
An innovation center for transforming the shopping experience, Store No. 8 is taking a longer-term view — three-and-a-half years out — when VR technology is expected to have evolved from today's clunky headsets to more consumer-friendly wireless devices.
"There will be really key enhancements in three-plus years," said Katie Finnegan, principal of Store No. 8. "The resolution on the screen isn't there yet. You kind of know it's not real. We believe you’re almost not going to be able to tell the difference. It'll be like you're standing in Yosemite."The competition will culminate on Oct. 18 with an invitation-only exhibition in Los Angeles highlighting the top submissions, which will be chosen for their storytelling and ability to increase the sense of engagement and connection between consumers and their favored products.Winners will get capital to fund development costs and strategic advice during the incubation of their concepts as well as the opportunity to work with Wal-Mart, Jet.com, Thrive Global and other retail partners.Store No. 8 believes that VR can make shopping "more mindful, more human, less stressful and more enjoyable," which Finnegan acknowledged is not the case now, with 20 percent of people getting "that seasick sort of feeling with VR."Finnegan admitted that VR also has to overcome an image problem. "What we've seen in the market is that all the focus in on gaming," she said. "How do we get these amazingly passionate [VR developers] to think about commerce and customer experience. We have to change the perception of what VR can do."Potential applications can be as straightforward as browsing the aisle of a store from home or "virtually" trying on apparel before going to a store to buy it. "We think there’s applications for a wide spectrum of categories," Finnegan said. "There's a lot of apparel applications, especially where fit isn't important. When you get to nuances of fit, the technology is further out. With denim, I'm going to want to feel the wash and how it hugs my hips."Finnegan said Store No. 8 is looking for ways to inspire consumers with VR. "For a customer preparing for a fishing trip, over half the fun and excitement comes from planning the trip," she said, including "choosing the lake, type of fish and length of the pole. VR is an enhanced experience of what you do now in store and online. It puts you in the context. It can happen in the fishing section of a store or your home. We think there’s something magical, having an emotional connection with the consumer."Huffington, whose Global Thrive is dedicated to ending "the epidemic of stress and burnout," said her interest in VR is in making "everyday experiences, like shopping, easier and less stressful. Innov8 will focus the industry’s brightest minds and talent toward the development of virtual experiences that change the way we live for the better."Innov8's board includes Marc Lore, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart U.S. e-commerce and founder and ceo of Jet.com; Kirsten Green, general partner of Forerunner Ventures; Tipatat Chennavasin, general partner of the Virtual Reality Fund; Seth Beal, Store No. 8 principal; Marc Carrel-Billiard, senior managing director of Accenture Labs, and Jason Welsh, managing director of Accenture Interactive.
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