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Walmart Realm aims to break Gen Z market

Walmart believes virtual storefronts are the best way to tap into the vast spending power of Gen Z. Will it work?

Walmart isn’t exactly a beacon of culture, is it? A labyrinth of isles illuminated by florescent lighting and blue and yellow branding doesn’t currently scream Gen Z.

Determined to break into the vast spending power of our generation, however, the supermarket behemoth is willing to change tact – slash, outsource the mission to those who do have some youthful acumen.

Late last month, Walmart launched a virtual storefront called ‘Walmart Realm’. Using insights from Pinterest Predicts, a forecasting report that compiles data on potential viral aesthetic trends, it settled on three thematic pillars to form its digital marketplace.

There’s ‘So Jelly,’ a fantastical coral reef drawing on the slightly odd ‘Mermaidcore’ trend of 2023; ‘Y’allternative,’ a Wild West meets goth glam space – no doubt inspired by Beyonce and Post Malone – and ‘Go Chomatic,’ a futuristic space reminiscent of Lil Nas X’s function get ups. There are plans to revolve and add new themes as the year rolls on.

Each of these spaces plays like a classic point and click game, except there are products floating around in the world that can be purchased. Whether that’s a puffy white sofa for a hefty financial outlay in the jellyfish cove, or an eyeliner bobbing around a desert plaza, Walmart is convinced this is the way to coax young people out of their dollars.

Like the addictive freemium model employed by mobile games users can collect virtual currency to earn rewards like discount codes, and you may spot the presence of recognisable influencers like Mai Pham, Nava Rose, and Makenzie and Malia Fowler throughout Walmart Realm’s marketing.

Having earned its chops by successfully creating virtual worlds for retail companies like L’Occitane and Bloomingdale’s, digital design firm Emperia was onboarded by Walmart to carry the vision through to completion. Whether or not the project will succeed, however, remains to be seen.

To start off on a decent footing, Walmart was keen to ratify that Walmart Realm is categorically not a metaverse retail shop, recognising how passé the metaverse has become. It may have all the trappings of one, but it is billed as a standalone website for young people to invest time and cash – without needing a VR kit or legless avatar to do so.

Given how quickly commercial and consumer interest in the metaverse slumped, it’s surprising that Walmart sees virtual shopping as such a major opportunity in 2024. It claims, however, that data from its previous Gen Z-geared offerings spurred the decision and not a random hunch.

Following a third-time lucky collab with Roblox, after its previous two projects were shut down for alleged ‘stealth marketing’ to kids, Walmart launched ‘Walmart Discovered’ on the game in September 2023.

The immersive shop and play experience remains the top-rated brand integration on the platform with peak-time at nine-minutes per user and 21 million visits (as of March). Compiling data and insights from this primarily young audience, Walmart strongly believes its own virtual storefront could thrive and be a Gen Z hit.

Any chance of that coming to fruition will, as already alluded, rely heavily on Walmart distancing itself from the outdated and uncool label of metaverse, which will not be easy given the obvious parallels. Look at how Decentraland and Sandbox have already fallen off.

Either way, given Walmart’s incredible financial muscle, it can – quite literally – afford to try its hand at breaking into emerging markets without risking profit catastrophe.

It has previously spoken of a trial-and-error mantra to fully break into Gen Z. I guess we’ll see whether Walmart Realm can avoid the scrap heap soon enough.