- Walmart filed a series of trademark applications late last month that indicate the retailer has bigger plans for the metaverse, including through the development of cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens. CNBC first spotted the batch of documents that were submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Dec. 30.
- The applications encompass concepts like "virtual goods" across product categories such as furniture, toys and sporting gear, along with downloadable software for managing cryptocurrency portfolios or establishing an electronic wallet.
- Games and other services powered by augmented and virtual reality technology also make appearances. The news suggests the metaverse could play a significant role in Walmart's strategy as the big-box brand centers more of its business around the digital world.
Walmart isn't the first retailer to show budding interest in the metaverse, but a potentially substantial push to build out its offerings could go a long way in sparking more mainstream adoption of technologies that are foundational to the channel, including cryptocurrencies. The big-box store is the largest retailer in the world, reaching a massive audience of shoppers, and rivals may follow Walmart's lead in ramping up their bets lest they lose an early-mover advantage in a market some view as the next evolution of the internet.
That said, many metaverse-related technologies like NFTs haven't served a purpose in marketing beyond one-off stunts or generating some headlines. But the broader vision of what the metaverse could eventually become is appealing to companies like Walmart, with shared virtual realms acting as a venue for customers to try out experiences and products and eventually make purchases of digital goods as they look to customize their online avatars and living spaces. Though businesses clearly smell an opportunity, consumers haven't quite come around to the idea, even as categories like gaming provide a loose sense of what's possible in the metaverse.
Some groundwork has already been laid for Walmart's metaverse approach. Last year, it began seeking a digital currency and cryptocurrency product lead, following in Amazon's footsteps. Recent executive changes point to a possible strategy switch-up. Longtime merchandising chief Scott McCall is retiring, Bloomberg reported, while Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside — a key player in rounding out Walmart's e-commerce playbook — will depart in March.
Walmart dipping its toes in the metaverse could support other ventures that are important to staying competitive in retail. In 2020, it introduced its long-awaited Walmart+ e-commerce portal meant to tackle the growing threat of Amazon Prime. Several of the trademark applications were also made under Walmart Connect, the marketer's fledgling advertising business. Walmart has quickly built out the unit as the demand for retail media soars during the pandemic and brands seek alternative targeting methods to cookies, which are being phased out next year. On Jan. 14, a couple weeks after the other patents were filed, Walmart filed another one aimed at providing software as a service.
Other retailers are more firmly planting their metaverse flags. Nike in December acquired RTFKT, a digital studio that designs virtual collectibles like NFTs. The sportswear giant also recently established Nikeland, an interactive experience inside the Roblox gaming platform that lets visitors participate in activities like dodgeball and trying on virtual apparel.