Walmart, Target and Toys R Us will be looking to get a boost in traffic from Star Wars fans as part of the "Force Friday II" weekend beginning Sept. 1. Some 20,000 U.S. stores will be part of an augmented reality game designed to drive shoppers into stores. #BeJediReady events, including the debut of new Star Wars merchandise, in its stores in select cities starting Friday, Sept. 1 at 12:01 a.m. and run through Sunday, Sept. 3, according to a company press release.
The events serve to promote the scheduled December release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the eighth movie in the decades-spanning series. Walmart stores in 10 markets — Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Northwest Arkansas, Orlando, San Antonio, San Jose, and Seattle — will feature family-friendly #BeJediReady events in-store and in their parking lots.
Activities at Walmart will include Jedi training games with lightsabers; photo opportunities for customers to capture their Jedi training or have their photo taken with Star Wars characters; a tent with Star Wars-themed games and activities for children; in-store toy demos with new products; free EA Star Wars: Battlefront II video game posters; and Topps Galactic Connexions Trading Discs giveaways. Select Target and Toys R Us stores will open at midnight Sept. 1 with a variety of events.
It feels a little bit early to start tying in marketing for a movie that premieres on Dec. 15. But, now entering its third straight holiday season of featuring new Star Wars merchandise (available both online and in-store) for a new Star Wars film, Walmart knows better than that. The #BeJediReady events will come almost a year to the day after Walmart started an earlier-than-usual holiday layaway program in advance of the December 2016 theatrical release of series spin-off "Star Wars: Rogue One."
These events began almost two years ago, with the "Force Awakens Friday" event that led up to Walmart and other retailers debuting new Star Wars toy line-ups in early September 2015 before the highly anticipated December 2015 premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
Walmart isn’t the only one partaking in pre-Star Wars frenzy. Target will open 500 locations at midnight Sept. 1 (local time) and the majority of Toys R Us stores will do the same. Customers can play games, get free stuff and see in-store demos.
Disney and Lucasfilm have created a promotion designed to drive store traffic: 20,000 retail stores across the country — including Target, Best Buy and other retailers (though Walmart stores make up more than 4,000 of them) — will be the starting points for a mobile app-based augmented reality treasure hunt for data chips holding information about key characters. Customers will be able to use the Star Wars apps on their phones to scan QR codes on in-store, life-size displays of characters from "The Last Jedi."
The augmented reality game is a new spin on Star Wars merchandise marketing that we didn’t see back in 2015 with the release of "The Force Awakens." Over the last two years, however, AR has come to play an increasing role in the promotion of all kinds of products, as Sephora has demonstrated with its use of the technology to sell beauty products, as well as the Summer 2016 debut of Pokemon Go, which unleashed an array of possibilities for how retailer and brand marketers could leverage AR technology in their campaigns.
Yet, some things haven’t changed: Brick-and-mortar stores were major gathering places for buyers of Star Wars merchandise over the last two holiday seasons, just as they were when the original Stars Wars movies played out in the late 1970s and 1980s (although that was before we called them brick-and-mortar stores.) With Walmart's continued interest in the franchise, it sure looks like they will have a major role to play again this holiday season.