4.5 minutes

The launch shows a new front where Walmart could try to differentiate itself from Amazon online, using the Realm environment.

The new shopping experiences in Walmart Realm include radically different environments from the retail giant’s physical stores. As the company’s latest expansion into virtual, immersive, metaverse-style shopping, the launch shows yet another way Walmart is trying to position itself as an online competitor to Amazon.

Walmart Realm allows shoppers a Disneyesque shopping experience immersion and avatars with funky music playing in the background. The only thing missing are 3-D glasses. A recent sampling of the site — offering categories of home, beauty and fashion — allowed for a $113 Alden Design Mid-Century Modern Faux Leather Wingback Accent chair to be easily placed in a cart, but the feeling was almost as much gaming as shopping.

What it’s like to use Walmart Realm

While Walmart did not respond to a request for comment, William White, its chief marketing officer, emphasized Realm’s futuristic shopping experience.

“It’s fantastical, it’s inspirational, and simply put, it’s a lot of fun,” White stated. “At Walmart, we’re embracing innovation with e-commerce experiences designed with the virtual world at the heart.”

Walmart is No. 2 in the Top 1000, Digital Commerce 360’s database ranking of North America’s online retailers by web sales. The retailer is also No. 9 in the Global Online Marketplaces Database, Digital Commerce 360’s ranking of the top 100 online marketplaces by gross merchandise value.

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Walmart isn’t alone in thinking that Realm may be transformational.

Digital marketing expert Joe Karasin, owner of Karasin PPC,  says that if Realm is successful, other retailers will try similar tactics.

“Walmart Realm will most likely be a major experiential shopping tool that other retailers seek to emulate in the future,” Karasin predicted. “This is very much in line with the direction technology is heading. Amazon has the AR View option for furniture, and other retailers like Wayfair and even Value City have followed suit.”

He anticipates that Walmart may even take some of Amazon’s digital market share.

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Walmart’s continuing interest in metaverse ecommerce

Realm showcases creations from the content designers at the firm Sawhorse, as well as a platform created by Emperia, both of which worked with Walmart on the project. It builds on Walmart’s earlier announcements and partnerships to create immersive shopping experiences, including one with 3-D content platform maker Unity. In addition, Walmart has worked on in-game commerce with the virtual game platform Roblox and explored use cases for NFTs.

Some critics have panned Realm as a fad, but Michael Zakkour, a Walmart observer and founder of the consultancy 5 New Digital, doesn’t think so.

“WMR is no fad; it’s a smart strategy,” Zakkour said. “The initial focus is not on growing top line revenue but rather on attracting newer and younger consumers, while also giving current customers an additional habitat in which to shop and experience Walmart.”

He added that using creators and influencers to create, curate and run the shops is innovative business.

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“It creates differentiation from what is offered in-store, online, and on the marketplace,” Zakkour explained.

And Realm does differentiate. It offers virtual shops with an under-the-sea theme (but with the fun name of “So Jelly” in homage to the fish), a Wild West theme (Y’Alternative) and a futuristic, avataristic moonscape theme (Go Chromatic). In So Jelly, for example, a full-length ocean-themed Vlush-brand mirror beckoned the seafaring shopper.

But the big question is: Will shoppers bite?

“Consumers may not take to the 100% virtual shopping experience, but if they do, it will revolutionize retail in a major way,” said Karasin.

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