Walmart is working to shift perceptions of its business among Gen Z with the launch of two Roblox experiences ahead of the holidays. The interactive spaces mark the first time the world’s largest retailer has shown up virtually and are part of a series of experiments that leverage emergent digital channels to nudge young consumers closer to commerce.
“We're really manifesting the brand in a way that we think is going to excite the next generation of consumers and get them to think of Walmart differently,” said Justin Breton, director of Walmart’s brand experiences and strategic partnerships.
A two-pronged approach on Roblox represents a bid by Walmart to cater to varied product interests among the gaming platform’s 52 million daily active users. One of the spaces, Walmart’s Universe of Play, showcases the big-box store’s toy collection, seeking to inspire visitors to add items they encounter digitally to their holiday wish lists. The world lets people accrue rewards and play five mini-games tied to franchises like “Jurassic World” and “Paw Patrol.” A blimp flying overhead also regularly drops in new toys to keep the experience fresh.
The other offering going live today (Sept. 26) is Walmart Land, a floating island designed in the shape of Walmart’s spark logo. Each of the six sparks is an “isle” embodying a different store shopping aisle. The first, called House Of Style, carries beauty and cosmetics products. Brands on display include pop singer Halsey’s Af94 line, UOMA by Sharon C., ITK by Brooklyn & Bailey, Lottie London and Bubble.
Like Universe of Play, House of Style offers activities that are meant to hook consumers in a deeper fashion beyond browsing. Those include a virtual dressing room, strike-a-pose challenge and a category-themed obstacle course, called an “obby” in Roblox parlance.
“We're really showcasing these brands in a way that consumers have never been able to see or engage with, with the hopes of, in this particular instance, getting them to think of Walmart as a destination for premium Gen Z beauty products,” said Breton.
“We are certainly not the first brand, but we believe we are the first major retailer, to show up on Roblox and represent a true broad assortment of categorical experiences,” Breton added later.
Walmart worked closely with Roblox on audience insights, trying to cater the design of Walmart Land to the 17- to 24-year-olds who make up the gaming title’s fastest-growing segment and represent the target audience of the push. It also relied on the know-how of its merchant partners to gauge what brands would pop best in a gaming setting.
The company joins a long list of retail and apparel marketers that view Roblox as an important testing ground for the metaverse, a channel that promises to blend aspects of the real world with virtual ones but whose full potential remains years off from realization. Given the nascent state, most metaverse activations have not yet evolved into meaningful drivers of transactions. Breton’s team focuses on media strategy that “effectively shortens the distance between inspiration and commerce” and previously spearheaded Walmart’s efforts around livestream shopping on apps like TikTok.
Walmart is trying its hand a few concepts to track what piques consumer interest on Roblox, such as virtual merchandise, or “verch,” that players can outfit their Roblox avatars in, as well as tokens and badges that are won by competing in games and other activities.
“We obviously want to drive mass amounts of people into this experience, and of course, tell a good story,” said Breton. “But also, what does engagement look like? Because this is really about meaningful engagement.”
To keep players returning, Walmart Land will build out over time, with the next isle scheduled to release in November, others planned around the holidays and the rest slotted for early 2023. Excitement will be stoked through programming in the form of live events, along with more traditional media elements like YouTube pre-roll ads and spots running on in-store Walmart screens and radio channels. Walmart is not using a new immersive ad format Roblox is rolling out, Breton said, though it is trying its hand at other offerings.
An Electric Island section of the space is modeled on music festivals and acts as a destination for events like a Netflix trivia night hosted by “Stranger Things” star Noah Schnapp. On Oct. 6, the section will also put on an “Electric Fest” headlined by Madison Beer, Kane Brown and Yungblud. The concert makes use of a new Roblox motion-capture technology.
Virtual performances have become a popular way for marketers to partner with artists during the pandemic, and Walmart is looking to differentiate from the pack with sheer scale and variety.
“We're doing something different in the sense of most brands have brought in a single artist,” said Breton. “We're bringing together three, each of whom represents different types of music, different types of style.”