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Walmart, the world’s largest retailer by revenue, announced today it is experimenting with new ways to connect its customers’ physical and virtual shopping experiences in the metaverse, a term that refers to the collective of virtual worlds and environments that allow people to create avatars, socialize, explore and participate in activities.
The company says that it is aggressively pursuing opportunities in virtual worlds that connect to commerce at its stores and vice versa. For example, customers can now buy some of the same items for their physical houses that they can buy for their virtual houses in House Flip, a mobile game that lets players renovate and sell virtual homes. Customers can also buy virtual clothing items based on Walmart’s fashion brand Scoop in Zepeto, a mobile virtual world that lets players create and customize their avatars.
Walmart sees the growth and expansion of virtual worlds as not only a chance to develop new ways to meet and engage with its customers, but also an opportunity to experiment with a new type of commerce — virtual commerce — one where customers can not only continue buying virtual goods, like clothing for their avatar, but now their real-world counterpart.
Thomas Kang, VP & general manager of metaverse commerce at Store No. 8, Walmart’s innovation arm, said in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat that Walmart’s goal is to power commerce in the metaverse, wherever customers choose to enter it.
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“We’re not trying to replace or isolate the reality with virtual, but rather connect it and make it better for the customer,” he said. “We want to make sure that what we do is contextual and authentic to the customer. We want to add to the experience and the convenience.”
Kang also said that Walmart has a unique advantage in connecting its customers’ physical and virtual lives, given that almost 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store.
“We have a chance to reshape and reinvent retail in ways that are good for the customers,” he said. “We can use our physical locations as places to engage customers, for example, if you buy something physical, we may be able to give you something virtually for free.”
Walmart also plans to introduce the ability to purchase physical items contextually and natively in House Flip using a Walmart account without leaving the virtual world. This would allow customers to check out with their Walmart account for both virtual and physical goods, or just one of them.
Kang said that this is a pioneering concept that isn’t happening today on any other platforms or with other retailers. “We are well positioned in that environment, because we are a commerce company,” he said. “We want to help these companies and brands sell their products in virtual worlds.”
According to Citi, the total market for metaverse-related commercial activity will be between $8 trillion and $13 trillion by 2030, with total metaverse users numbering around five billion. Virtual worlds and games are also projected to be the fastest-growing category of entertainment, with a projected 3 billion participants spanning all geographies and demographics.
Kang said that he expects to see metaverse commerce in ways that he never even thought of, as developers create new types of experiences and platforms. He also said that Walmart believes in building metaverse for everyone, accessible via any device, that align with its digital values and meet the needs of all its customers.
“We believe in digital citizenship. We want to make sure that we are creating safe spaces for everybody,” he said. “We want to be leaders in trust and safety in that environment.”
Walmart said that it will test more experiences in virtual worlds over the next year. “We see limitless potential with this emerging technology,” Kang said. “And we’re excited to explore its possibilities.”
The move by Walmart reflects its ambition to compete with other e-commerce giants like Amazon and Alibaba, which have also invested in virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to enhance their online shopping offerings. Walmart has also recently acquired several startups in the fields of artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning to improve its customer service, inventory management and delivery operations.
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