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Retailers Punt On Virtual Reality This Xmas

Senior management at both Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi are banking on a virtual reality Christmas with both retailers set to range a new generation of VR headsets from manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung and Facebook’s Oculus Rift headsets.

The move to expand their VR offering comes as organisations like Google get set to roll out new VR content channels.

In the US Best Buy, CEO Hubert Joly, is so impressed with the opportunities that virtual reality will bring to retailers that he has moved quickly to make VR a key product range running into the second half of 2016.

 In what’s seen as the first mainstream test of VR products, Best Buy began rolling out demonstrations for Facebook’s Oculus Rift headsets in May and will have them in 500 stores for the PEAK holiday-shopping season.

The chain also is running 200 demos for Sony’s PlayStation VR, which will be released in October.



Like retailers in Australia Joly is betting that virtual reality is ready to move beyond early adopters and catch the eye of the mass-market who browse the aisles of retailers looking for Christmas gifts.

These are the same retailers who are facing a fall in demand for Apple products as demand for iPhone’s slow.

“It’s going to be really cool and fun for our customers,” Joly told Bloomberg. “Virtual reality has the potential to contribute to our growth.”.

Some analysts that ChannelNews has spoken to still have lingering memories of the failure of 3-D TVs on a still sceptical that virtual reality is ready for the mainstream. They believe they are still plenty of obstacles: The gear costs hundreds of dollars, and many Australians might not be ready to strap screens to their faces.

“The performance of virtual reality at Best Buy will be a very good indicator of how successful the VR movement will be,” Brad Thomas, a retail analyst for Keybanc Capital Markets told Bloomberg. “We’re hopeful that virtual reality turns into a new traffic driver for Best Buy.”

Adopting VR requires a big commitment from consumers — something that could boost technology spending but also relegate it to a niche product. Few computers have the graphics capabilities needed to run virtual reality, which means users need to upgrade or buy new hardware. That alone could cost thousands of dollars.

Another company that is banking on the success of virtual reality is HTC who are seen by many professionals as having the best VR offering. Currently their product is only available online from the HDC website.

Retailers that ChannelNews has spoken to still believe that it will be “early adopters” who drive the market due to the current high price of top end VR headsets.

The first modern VR headsets have been out on the market less than a year. Samsung’s Gear VR, which uses Oculus-developed software, debuted in November, while both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive became available to consumers this year.

About 2.5 million VR headsets will be sold in 2016, according to Deloitte estimates. By comparison, the iPhone’s sales topped 3 million in its first year of release — and that’s over the course of about six months.

But no one will really know how far VR can go until we start getting sales and that will not happen until the latter part of this year said a Harvey Norman executive.

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