Walmart enters the metaverse with Roblox

Walmart is entering the metaverse with two experiences premiering Monday on online gaming platform Roblox.

The retail giant’s first foray into the virtual world will feature a blimp that drops toys, a music festival with hot artists, a bunch of different games, and a store of virtual merchandise, or “verch,” which matches what customers may find in Walmart’s stores and on its website.

The two experiences are called Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play.

Walmart is experimenting with new ways to reach shoppers, particularly after seeing the pandemic shake up shopping habits and fuel consumers’ engagement with social media, apps and gaming websites.

The big-box retailer has hosted shoppable livestreaming events on TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. It has created meal recipes through a partnership with Meredith, the media company that owns Allrecipes, Parents and Better Homes & Gardens. It has also rolled out an augmented reality-powered tool on Pinterest that allows shoppers to see how furniture or decor would look in their own homes.

Roblox will serve as a testing ground for Walmart as it considers moves in the metaverse and beyond, said William White, Walmart’s chief marketing officer. He said the experiences are designed with the next generation of shoppers in mind, particularly Gen Z, generally defined as around age 25 or younger. White said the company is looking to learn from the partnership.

“How are we driving relevance in cultural conversation? How are we developing community and engagement? How are we moving the needle from a brand favorability [standpoint] with younger audiences?” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

Walmart quietly filed for metaverse-related trademarks earlier this year. Some of the trademarks indicated interest in making or selling virtual goods and offering users virtual currency, as well as non-fungible tokens or NFTs.

White declined to share if or how Walmart will use those trademarks.

For now, he said Walmart won’t make money from its immersive experiences. Gamers can earn tokens and other rewards to put toward virtual merchandise on Roblox. National brands, such as toy label L.O.L. Surprise! and Skullcandy headphones, were included in the experiences based on their popularity with Roblox’s younger audience of gamers — not based on paying, he said.

Walmart could make money from it in the future, however, by charging a brand for inclusion or trying to turn people’s virtual experiences into real-world store visits or online purchases, White said.

Walmart Land’s October virtual concert, “Electric Fest,” will feature Madison Beer, Kane Brown and Yungblud.

Walmart is trying to connect the dots between the virtual and physical worlds.

Universe of Play has games that feature items from Walmart’s top toy list for the holiday season — like Razor scooters and Paw Patrol and Jurassic World characters — a potential nudge to get Roblox users to ask for them. Walmart Land has an obstacle course of oversized items from the retailer’s Gen Z-focused beauty brands, such as skin-care products from Bubble and makeup from Uoma by Sharon C, and a virtual dressing room with apparel from its exclusive fashion lines, such as Free Assembly.

Roblox drew many new users during the Covid pandemic and debuted on the stock market last year. The gaming platform grew from 32.6 million daily active users in 2020 to more than 52 million, according to the company. It has historically drawn more young kids and teens, but the company has said it is attracting users across a wider age range.

The platform makes most of its money from in-app purchases, but is testing online advertising and plans for a broader ad push next year.

Roblox’s market value is about $21.2 billion, but its shares are down nearly 66% so far this year.

As Roblox’s userbase has grown, more retailers and brands have dived in. Those include higher-end designers like Ralph Lauren and teen-oriented brands like PacSun. Sports footwear brand Vans has a virtual skate park in Roblox.

In a year-in-review blog post, Roblox called out the success of brand experiences, including top destinations for users who are 17 or older. Those included Nikeland, where people’s avatars can participate in a dunk contest or try on the company’s gear, and Gucci Garden, where users could explore a boutique of limited-edition virtual items and avatars could strike a pose.

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