The last time Walmart was reportedly entering the crypto space, it turned out to be a giant Litecoin-promoting hack, that was quickly reversed, after it became clear that playful hackers had fabricated a press release. But there appears to be nothing fake about the latest news involving Walmart’s desire to ride the latest wave of crypto/web 3.0/metaverse/NFT euphoria, and as a result the big box retailer is boldly venturing into the metaverse with plans to create its own cryptocurrency and collection of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
According to CNBC, Walmart filed several new trademarks late last month that indicate its intent to make and sell virtual goods, including electronics, home decorations, toys, sporting goods and personal care products. In a separate filing, the company said it would offer users a virtual currency, as well as NFTs. In total, seven separate applications have been submitted.
The patent applications were among a flurry the company filed on Dec. 30, including three under “Walmart Connect” – the name of the company’s existing digital advertising venture – for a financial exchange for virtual currency and advertising. Applications also were filed for “Verse to Store,” “Verse to Curb” and “Verse to Home” for shopping services. It’s also seeking trademarks to apply the Walmart name and “fireworks” logo to heath-care services and education in virtual and augmented reality.
“They’re super intense,” said Josh Gerben, a trademark attorney, quoted by CNBC. “There’s a lot of language in these, which shows that there’s a lot of planning going on behind the scenes about how they’re going to address cryptocurrency, how they’re going to address the metaverse and the virtual world that appears to be coming or that’s already here.”
Gerben said that ever since Facebook announced it was changing its company name to Meta, signaling its ambitions beyond social media, businesses have been rushing to figure out how they will fit into a virtual world.
The applications represent a significant step for the retail giant as it studies how to participate in the metaverse, a virtual world that blends aspects of digital technologies. Walmart dropped a hint to what was coming, after it advertised in August a position to develop “the digital currency strategy and product roadmap” while identifying “crypto-related investment and partnerships,” according to a job posting on the company’s website.
“Walmart is continuously exploring how emerging technologies may shape future shopping experiences,” the company responded in an emailed statement. “We don’t have anything further to share today, but it’s worth noting we routinely file trademark applications as part of the innovation process.”
Walmart’s cryptocurrency plans were the subject of a high-profile hoax in September, when a fake announcement caused a short-lived surge in Litecoin, a relatively obscure cryptocurrency. According to the faked news release, Walmart would start letting its customers pay with Litecoin.
In October, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer started a pilot program in which shoppers can buy Bitcoin at Coinstar kiosks in some of its U.S. stores. The test with Coinstar, which is known for the machines that let customers exchange U.S. coins for paper bills or gift cards, includes 200 kiosks in Walmart stores.
In early December, Walmart Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs said at an analyst conference that the company was open to allowing shoppers to pay in cryptocurrency if customers demand it, but the company didn’t see a need to rush out any capabilities.
Walmart is the latest brand to jump on the bandwagon of selling virtual goods and/or NFTs. In November, Nike filed a slew of trademark applications that previewed its plans to sell virtual branded sneakers and apparel. Later that month, it said it was teaming up with Roblox to create an online world called Nikeland. In December, it bought the virtual sneaker company RTFKT (pronounced “artifact”) for an undisclosed amount.
“All of a sudden, everyone is like, ‘This is becoming super real and we need to make sure our IP is protected in the space,’” said Gerben.
Others are also piling in: Gap has started selling NFTs of its iconic logo sweatshirts. The apparel maker said its NFTs will be priced in tiers ranging from roughly $8.30 to $415, and come with a physical hoodie. Meantime, both Under Armour’s and Adidas’ NFT debuts sold out last month. They’re now fetching sky-high prices on the NFT marketplace OpenSea.
Gerben said that apparel retailers Urban Outfitters, Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch have also filed trademarks in recent weeks detailing their intent to open some sort of virtual store.
A report from CB Insights outlined some of the reasons why retailers and brands might want to make such ventures, which can potentially offer new revenue streams. Launching NFTs allows for businesses to tokenize physical products and services to help reduce online transaction costs, it said. And for luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, NFTs can serve as a form of authentication for tangible and more expensive goods, CB Insights noted.
As the following chart from JPM shows, the NFT space has been red hot in the past year, and the market cap of the NFT universe has never been higher even though crytpocurrencies have tumbled by more than 40% in the past 2 months as institutions dumped the best performing assets of 2021 ahead of widely telegraphed Fed tightening.
Launching NFTs allows for businesses to tokenize physical products and services to help reduce online transaction costs, it said. And for luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, NFTs can serve as a form of authentication for tangible and more expensive goods, CB Insights noted.
Gerben said that as more consumers familiarize themselves with the metaverse and items stored on the blockchain, more retailers will want to create their own ecosystem around it. And after all, while it is the view of the World Economic Forum that after the Great Reset “you will own nothing, and you will be happy”, nobody said that one can’t own virtual goods in the coming dystopian future.
Quoted by CNBC, Frank Chaparro, director at crypto information services firm The Block, said that many retailers are still reeling from being late to e-commerce, so they don’t want to miss out on any opportunities in the metaverse.
“I think it’s a win-win for any company in retail,” Chaparro said. “And even if it just turns out to be a fad there’s not a lot of reputation damage in just trying something weird out like giving some customers an NFT in a sweepstake, for instance.”