Walmart and Unity team up to bring immersive commerce for physical goods to games


Walmart and Unity have partnered to integrated immersive commerce into games and apps. With it, players can buy Walmart physical goods from directly within games.

This enables creators to sell physical items in real-time 3D experiences across more than 20 gaming and interactive platforms, unlocking a new way for developers and creators to connect customers’ virtual and physical lifestyles and establishing a new monetization channel for developers.

It’s a collaboration that enables the world’s biggest retailer to make headway in digital commerce in collaboration with game engine maker Unity, which has more than 1.1 million developers using its Unity editor each month.

Developers can explore Walmart’s Unity SDK, facilitating the integration of immersive commerce within their projects, at CES 2024, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas next week. The interesting thing about this deal is that it looks like it works. Rather than build a metaverse mall that could be a ghost town, this deal lets the commerce take place where the people already are — inside games.

The integration means that Unity developers can use Walmart’s commerce application programming interfaces (APIs) and enable players to make purchases inside games, buying Walmart merchandise that they can then pick up in a store, said Tom Kang, vice president and general manager of metaverse commerce for Walmart.

“It is really about meeting customers where they’re spending a lot a lot of their time,” said Kang. “I don’t have to tell you there are over 3 billion people playing games, and they’re doing digital commerce. They’ve been buying digital goods in those spaces for years and years. Walmart, as a commerce company with over 11,000 physical locations, believes it’s an opportunity to invent a new type of experience for our customers that evolves the physical to digital, with ecommerce to social and now immersive — we’re calling it immersive commerce, which is the virtual worlds, games and apps and connecting the physical and virtual lives.”

It’s part of a strategy of making the metaverse for everyone, or immersive commerce for everyone.

You can buy real Better Homes & Gardens products in House Flip.

“We view it very broadly, including games, apps, and virtual worlds. And we also include our stores. We think that as part of our version of the metaverse was the digital to the physical and bringing convenience for customers and creating another opportunity for developers,” Kang said. “As you know, Unity is one of the most widely used technologies to create games, apps and virtual worlds. And so we, we thought it was a great opportunity to create this consumer version with that could go in so many different places with by creating Walmart’s official Unity SDK that will allow creators to natively integrate Walmart commerce API’s into their experience.”

The user doesn’t have to leave an app to make a purchase. Walmart can authenticate the commerce within the app ecosystem, which is good for the games because the players don’t have to leave the game. And Kang said that the activations that Walmart did within the games led to more engagement.

Experimentation

Tom Kang is head of immersive commerce at Walmart.

Kang said a trio of games have already been testing the purchasing system, which gives Unity developers direct access to Walmart commerce APIs, enabling developers to seamlessly incorporate the sale of physical products within games, virtual worlds, apps, and various real-time 3D experiences across more than 20 platforms that Unity can reach with its game engine.

With Walmart’s retail prowess now accessible to Unity’s expansive community of creators—comprising over 1.1 million developers utilizing the Unity editor monthly and supporting an average of 3.6 billion downloads each month of Made With Unity apps worldwide—this partnership heralds new opportunities for retail-infused interactive content, Kang said.

“We have an opportunity to connect the physical and digital realms in a way that only Walmart can, meeting our customers and members with authentic experiences where they already are,” said Kang. “By opening up Walmart’s commerce APIs to the Unity development community, we’re empowering developers to offer a new mechanism to further drive user engagement while making it easy and convenient for players to complete a transaction for physical products without leaving the game, virtual world or app.”

Marc Whitten, president of Create at Unity, said in a statement, “This announcement paves the way for new innovation in commerce for games and other virtual experiences. We’re excited to be able to give Unity developers the option of another new revenue stream while keeping players within their games and experiences.”

Kang said Walmart’s Store No. 8 division has tested immersive commerce in online worlds over the past year, forging a bridge between virtual and physical realms.

“I don’t call it the virtual. I call it connecting commerce. Games, apps, virtual worlds — I want to meet people where they’re already spending time,” Kang said. “I don’t want to create artificial walls where it doesn’t make sense. They’re already engaged. And I believe this is going to increase their engagement because now they can connect their virtual and physical lives. And they don’t have to leave their virtual worlds to connect to their physical lives. And I know like my kids are playing games like Roblox. They’re dressing up their avatar, like once a week, and they want to buy that. And we’re going to give people the ability to do it right there and that without the need to leave the experiences natively.”

Notable experiences, crafted using Unity and integrating Walmart commerce APIs, are below.

Gaming partners

Reviewing an immersive commerce order in House Flip.

House Flip by fun-gi: This mobile game allows players to renovate, decorate, and sell virtual homes while enabling them to purchase real-life counterparts of in-game items, ranging from Glidden paint to décor items from Mainstays and Better Homes and Gardens.

In this game, you renovate houses and flip them. As an experiment, Walmart thought that home renovation would be an interesting place to sell home goods. People decorate their spaces inside popular game worlds, and so Walmart let people engage with home brands. People could paint their rooms with blue pain and they could buy that same physical counterpart of the virtual items.

“With authenticated Walmart checkout, they never had to leave. You do a one-time link to a Walmart account on the first time, and you buy it, and it gets delivered to your home or you pick it up at a store.

“People even bought Christmas trees over the holidays,” he said. “They decorated their rooms with a virtual Christmas tree and bought those physical Christmas trees that were delivered to their homes.”

Walmart is working with Avakin Life.
Walmart is working to bring immersive commerce to Avakin Life.

Avakin Life by Lockwood Publishing: Walmart introduced its fashion brand, Scoop, into this virtual world, granting players the ability to purchase virtual versions of the latest apparel or receive the virtual item for free with the purchase of its physical counterpart. Walmart also launched its virtual clothing line, CoreMood Collective, within the virtual environment.

In Avakin Life, fashion is a big element as it’s a social avatar platform.

“We wanted to experiment with connecting digital and physical,” he said. “We created digital twins of physical items on the platform, allowing avatars to dress up in those clothes. And if you buy the physical item, then you get the digital item for free. That once again is native experimentation to see the connection between digital and physical.”

The result was many purchases made by the players during the experiment that were much higher than Walmart anticipated.

“We saw very interesting behavior, gifting behavior, a lot of chat talking about how the physical shopping experience was very useful to them and how it created convenience and additional value for them,” Kang said.

You can buy real-world clothes in Zepeto’s digital fashion game via Walmart/Unity.

Zepeto by Naver Z: Walmart seamlessly integrated its Scoop and CoreMood Collective brands into this burgeoning 3D avatar-based social platform, aiming to connect the virtual and real worlds. The collaboration with Zepeto intends to infuse immersive commerce capabilities into select spaces on the platform for future brand integrations.

Walmart brought its brands into the digital fashion world and allowed people to make their own purchases where the only time they saw the Walmart brand was at checkout.

“We love the platform. It’s their dozens of passionate brands on that platform,” he said. “We launched our first virtual brand on the platform — Core Mood Collective. Walmart had never done that before. We wanted to see what kind of engagement we could get with customers on that platform. We designed it very targeted to the audience. We didn’t try to retrofit a brand into a platform. We looked at the demographics of the platform and we designed for the platform and got quite a bit of traction.”

Now Zepeto will connect the physical commerce to the whole platform.

How it works

House Flip integrated Walmart purchasing so you can buy physical goods in the game.

The mechanism behind this integration involves Walmart’s official Unity Software Development Kit (SDK), allowing creators to natively integrate Walmart’s Commerce APIs into their projects. Players can now purchase physical goods within games and applications without exiting the immersive experience.

This initiative retains players within the gaming environment, prolonging engagement while affording creators the opportunity to enhance their monetization capabilities through affiliate commissions from specific physical purchases facilitated by Walmart, which has $611 billion in sales and 240 million customers visiting 10,500 stores in 19 countries.

The affiliate fee means that game developers get to enjoy a new source of revenue with a different business model.

“We’re at the very early days of this,” Kang said. “For me as a former creator, it’s really exciting to see what’s going to happen. A lot of the examples already exists today, and we love user-generated content platforms.”

Rather than set up a whole store inside a game, Walmart wants to be “very contextual to the experience,” Kang said. “We want the customers to feel like it’s part of the experience, rather than something we’re introducing to the experience.”

Moving forward

A plaza in Avakin Life
A plaza in Avakin Life

These first tests were opportunistic. But they weren’t precisely targeted. You don’t, for instance, design a home in House Flip and then try to buy all the same things so you can build the home in real life. It’s not like a digital twin yet. In the game, people try to make their virtual space cool so they can get a high price for it.

“Within the experience you are presented with the opportunity to buy if you like the physical item,” Kang said. “We’re really creating contextual native opportunities, not putting this virtual store in a mall. That’s not our goal. Once again, we’re at the invention stage. We want to make sure it’s the right customer experience.”

Kang said that in years past Walmart had tried to create virtual stores in virtual malls and they didn’t work. There was no engagement or retention.

“I tried all of them. This is my belief. In the metaverse for physical commerce and connecting the physical and digital, what’s required is engagement. What are you going to do in a virtual mall? Games and entertainment and engagement are so important,” Kang said.

Unity has integrated Walmart commerce APIs into its game engine.
Unity has integrated Walmart commerce APIs into its game engine.

As for Web3, Kang said that there are hurdles to Web3 experiences, as Walmart believes in meeting customers where they’re already spending time. In this case, a consumer metaverse experience reaches a lot more people, not just a very small percentage of overall customers. He said Web3 could be on the roadmap at some point, but he is focused on the consumer metaverse now.

Asked if he would say that the metaverse is working, Kang replied, “I go a step further. The metaverse is here and it’s working. Everybody has defined the metaverse in their own way. We define it very, very broadly. We also connect our physical stores to the real world metaverse. We’re connecting virtual experiences with physical stores. I think it’s here today. We are inventing. And it’s real. And there’s a working business model. I think we’re at the point where we’re experimenting through innovation.”

He added, “Walmart is so well positioned to do this is because, you know, we’re a trusted commerce brand. It’s not easy to create commerce at scale with 11,000 locations worldwide. So trust and safety and digital citizenship is really important for us.”

Kang said you will see more activity in the next 24 months when it comes to digital and physical connections. He pointed to an example where he took his daughter to a Taylor Swift concert, and she bought $500 worth of merchandise there. He noted that only a fraction of people can get to these physical concerts.

“Why can’t you have a virtual concert where people are buying merch on in the virtual concert right there?” he asked. “It’s creating accessibility for people who otherwise could not have access to the concert or the merch. The metaverse of immersive commerce makes things accessible to people who are not actually there. That category is very fertile. Technology makes all this possible. Technology is a great enabler.”

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