Best Buy and Oculus are closing Oculus Rift demo stations at around 200 of the 500 stores that have them, Business Insider reports. The pop-up installations, which let interested shoppers try out high-end virtual reality for free, reportedly went days without anyone requesting a demo, according to employees. They also said that some locations would sell only “a few headsets per week” during the holidays, and that interest declined precipitously thereafter.
In a statement, Oculus spokesperson Andrea Schubert told The Verge that the closures were due to “seasonal changes,” and that people could “still request Rift demos at hundreds of Best Buy stores in the US and Canada.” She noted that other retail outlets, including Microsoft stores, offer demonstrations. Affected Best Buy stores will continue to sell Rift headsets and the accompanying Touch motion controllers, and Oculus plans to keep up public demos. “We still believe the best way to learn about VR is through a live demo,” said Schubert. “We’re going to find opportunities to do regular events and pop-ups in retail locations and local communities throughout the year.”
Best Buy spokesperson Shane Kitzman said that “We're always testing, trying and changing things in our stores to give our customers the best opportunity to experience and shop for technology.” He also pointed to a statement from CEO Hubert Joly last November, saying that Best Buy customers had tried a total of 300,000 demos at that point.
Oculus will still have “regular events” in 2017
The first Oculus Rift demo stations launched at 48 Best Buy locations in May, and that number expanded to 500 over the second half of 2016. Last year saw the launch of several major virtual reality headsets, including the Rift, the HTC Vive, and Sony’s PlayStation VR. But so far, projected sales haven’t impressed analysts. The Oculus Rift is a particularly niche product: the $599 headset requires $199 Touch controllers to unlock its full potential, and it only runs on high-end PCs. But Oculus’ parent company Facebook has described VR as a long-term area of focus over the next decade, introducing new, potentially more accessible prototypes like a self-contained wireless headset.
These closures aren’t precisely good news for Oculus or the VR industry, but there are a few caveats. It’s not unusual for at least some portion of pop-up stores to close after the holiday rush, and it’s getting easier to find virtual reality in public installations outside Best Buy, which could make the demo stations less attractive — places like arcades can offer more substantive and varied experiences. It’s also inevitable that VR’s novelty will wear off to some extent, at which point you’ll get fewer total newcomers clamoring for their first experience. That said, it’s worth closely watching how (and how much) Oculus and other companies try to put VR in front of people in 2017.
Update 4:30PM ET: Added statement from Best Buy.