Should Walmart set up shop in the metaverse? Experts weigh in

Walmart may soon enter the metaverse

A series of patent applications suggest that Walmart has big plans for the metaverse, including NFTs, virtual goods and cryptocurrency. Experts chime in on what the future could look like for the retail giant, and how it will impact consumer adoption of web3.

Once upon a time, web3 was niche and edgy. Now major corporations are catching on to the trend, signaling the beginning of the mainstream era for the new technologies. In December, Walmart – one of the largest retailers in the US – filed a series of patent applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that collectively hint at plans for the company to introduce its own cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and virtual goods.

Given the rate at which major brands (Nike, Adidas and Gucci are three oft-cited examples) have been staking their claims in the metaverse, it would make sense that Walmart would get in on this shiny new marketing trend – especially after Facebook’s rebranding to Meta in late 2021.

The patent applications, first reported by CNBC, number seven in total and were originally filed on December 30 2021. One of the applications was for “virtual merchandise,” including toys, electronics, sporting goods, apparel, video games, books and several other product categories. A separate application was for “software for use in managing portfolios of digital currency, virtual currency, cryptocurrency,” and other blockchain-based assets.

Thus far, evidence for Walmart’s alleged plans to enter the metaverse has been scant, and the chatter has been mostly speculative. When asked to comment, Walmart stated: “Walmart is continuously exploring how emerging technologies may shape future shopping experiences. We don’t have anything further to share today, but it’s worth noting we routinely file trademark applications as part of the innovation process.”

Kelly Goetsch, chief product officer at Commercetools, argues that the recent news from Walmart is probably nothing more than a PR stunt: “Walmart tends to get ahead of new trends with press releases, but then not actually follow up with any real action,” he tells The Drum. “They’re just chasing the hype on this.” Despite his skepticism about Walmart’s virtual future, Goetsch concedes that augmented reality (AR) could potentially be successfully leveraged by the brand: “As AR glasses become more mainstream, you could start looking around in the physical world, and look at an object and then have a virtual price tag pop up, where you could then buy that product. If you can augment commerce into the real world, that’s where you have real value. Imagine walking through a Walmart and looking at a product on the shelf, and having ratings and reviews pop up.”

Other experts see real practical value in a major retailer such as Walmart entering into the metaverse. Simeon Edmunds – senior vice-president and creative director at MediaHub Worldwide – points out that Walmart could ultimately come to play a role in the metaverse similar to that which it currently plays in the physical world: namely, being a provider of affordable consumer goods. “Right now, your options for dressing your avatar aren’t that great, unless you’re a developer,” says Edmunds. “Walmart [could] come in and say, ‘hey, we have all these internal brands [to provide] some cool new stuff that you can have on your avatar when you’re walking around, or even things that you could buy within the store to decorate your [virtual] house’ ... Walmart makes sense as a retailer to be doing that within the metaverse.”

Attention Walmart shoppers: please congregate in the metaverse

Building a strong sense of community is one of the core tenets of the web3 movement – and Walmart, with its enormous global presence and vast resources, could leverage these new technologies to become a major community, in and of itself, within the metaverse. “With web3, a lot of things center around the community ... people are believing there’s going to be places to assemble, places to interact, places to connect,” says Matt Zeiger, vice-president of technology at Adlucent. “Leading the charge of a community is something retailers have a big opportunity to be doing ... Walmart has a pretty massive technology team that is really capable of doing that. It’s going to be really interesting to see if Walmart tries to build out their own community.”

No matter how its plans for entering the metaverse pan out, at least one expert recommends that Walmart take it slow. “Web3 does not need big-box brands to thrive, so if a large corporation wants to earn the trust of the web3 community, they need to spend quality time in the trenches with us to understand our desire for verified virtual ownership and virtual expression,” says Christopher Travers, co-founder and chief creative officer at Offbeat. “I imagine Walmart may try to build their own virtual world where the web3 community can visit, but the overly branded and corporate nature of such a virtual experience would only hold short-term relevance unless executed perfectly and with the long-term in mind. Walmart’s smartest short-term move would be to build in already well-populated virtual worlds such as Sandbox and Decentraland, installing carefully thought-out shopping experiences there. Then, once Walmart has their footing in the metaverse after building trust and recognizability, they should pursue the construction of a more expansive, decentralized virtual world, putting the community first.”

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