Facebook is on the acquisition trail at the moment – a few weeks after buying messaging app Whatsapp for $19bn, it has now bought virtual reality headset company Oculus Rift for $2bn.
The Oculus Rift has already made a few ripples in the retail world after Topshop trialled it at London Fashion Week, and after Tesco used it to build a virtual version of one of its stores.
Facebook’s vice president of EMEA Nicola Mendelsohn said at the Financial Times digital media conference this morning that the only thing that would limit Facebook’s use of the device was “our imagination”.
It could lead to the creation of immersive games – one third of Facebook users interact with games in an average month – or experiences such as viewing sporting events or celebrity-watching.
The deal with Facebook was a surprise to most, because the social network has so far focused more on software than hardware. But Dan Calladine, head of media futures at marketing agency Carat says it’s a good match.
“It makes perfect sense,” he says. “The Oculus Rift is in the same position with head mounted virtual reality technology as Apple was with the iPhone when it first came out – it’s a couple of years ahead of the market. Facebook has the reach to take it to market and the deep pockets to tell everyone about it.”
He adds that while Facebook often gets a negative reaction for its headline-grabbing purchases, it’s more farsighted than most give it credit for. “A lot of people underestimate Facebook. They’re very smart and have a great deal of imagination about the way the future is going.”
Retailers should be ready to emulate this imaginative approach, he adds. They could potentially provide immersive experiences through the device, either in-store or at home, that connect shoppers to the brand – the Topshop project was a good example of this. Or they could embrace the Oculus Rift’s original intended use and go down the computer gaming route – the device was aimed at that market.
The Oculus Rift isn’t yet available to consumers, but if the hype around it is to be believed, this is a device that could have a big impact in a couple of years’ time.