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What’s in Walmart’s Shopping Cart for 2021?

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Remember when we were momentarily blown away by Walmart making their bid to buy TikTok?

No? Well they did. 7.5% stake, in fact.

But what the hell does that retail giant have to do with social media?

Well, upon closer inspection, it’s one more move in Walmart’s ongoing battle for eCommerce relevance as Amazon continues to dominate. From fast, trusted online transactions to fast, trusted delivery, Walmart has been following the industry giant’s lead for years now. Where once Walmart relied on their brick & mortar and slow-played ecomm, they now are racing to make up ground.

And now, with the launch of Walmart+ in September 2020, the company is once again leveraging its brick & mortar stores to edge out Amazon in affordable, fresh online grocery shopping and delivery, pushing the everyday grocery stores out of the way in the great 1-on-1 battle for your buck.

That leaves one major frontier to conquer from a merchandising opportunity standpoint: streaming services. While your money might be on Amazon because of its robust Prime Video offerings, don’t count out Walmart just yet. Despite an unclear arrangement with TikTok regarding their acquisition, Walmart did its first shoppable livestream event on the platform just before Christmas.

Walmart’s next step? I predict they’ll buy either Hulu or Netflix in 2021.

Before you object, hear me out, because this could be their smartest move yet.

The Siren Song of Shoppable Shows

We’re currently in a compelling new age of product placement. Over the last couple of years, shoppable Pinterest pins and Instagram and Facebook posts have made it increasingly easier for consumers to see products in places they want to be, and then buy said products with a tap.

The very strategy brands have used for impulse buys at checkout are now commonplace on social — don’t think, consume!

Next up: shoppable shows, where you watch a streaming program, see something you like in it, click, and buy. What’s in the show or movie can now be yours right now — don’t think, consume!

This will show up in a few ways:

  • Authentic, lifestyle placement: In this case, the product is integrated into the programming, like a cool jacket on the show’s lead character. Streaming Emily in Paris on Netflix? Well buy that outfit this very second with a simple click. No need to have to go Google it, or hopes to find it on your favorite online publication. It’s all right here at your fingertip. It’s product placement, but it’s not, because it’s not forced. There’s no call-out to the product, so the consumer has to make an effort to review what’s shoppable in this moment. In an era where we’re adept at avoiding digital ads, this natural way to showcase products may be more appealing to shoppers — making them feel more in control — especially younger Millennials and Gen Z, who are less accustomed to, or interested in, traditional commercials.
  • Traditional commercials: Before, during, and after the program (more likely for those viewers who don’t pay a premium subscription price).
  • Pop-up content: Someone cleans up a mess with a paper towel, and a pop-up for Bounty appears. (Again, most likely for those not paying a premium subscription price.)
  • Overt placement: Like the product placement we know (and often loathe), these in-your-face brand mentions directly call out a product and its benefits. These will be representative of the brands least accustomed to giving their consumer what they want.

In my opinion, it’s not inconceivable that someday soon, every single thing in your favorite TV show will be for sale.

Want Tony Stark’s sunglasses when you’re streaming Iron Man? One click and they’re yours... AND they could be dropped by a drone at your house by the time the movie is over.

Craving a burger after seeing a character eat one? Boom, UberEats is on the way.

Enjoying the movie, how about the book it’s based on?

Anything you want, all while being entertained.

It’s a ground-breaking way to connect the content experience to the consuming experience faster and more conveniently.

And actually, this next-level content/consumption connection is already happening. AmazonLive is like the Home Shopping Network but online, or an infomercial that you don’t have to call to buy the product.

Instagram has also already made shoppable video a part of its IGTV. And, this spring, Amazon launched Making the Cut, a fashion show hosted by Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum. Designers competed, and their winning designs were made available for purchase at the end of the show. Viewers didn’t have to lift a finger to become buyers — they could just tell Alexa to add to cart and check out. Shopping has never been easier or more frictionless.

So is it any wonder the biggest retailer in the world wants to fast-track its digital dominance?

Full Stream Ahead for Walmart

The key is owning all the channels: the content, the promotion, the product, and the distribution.

A decade ago, Walmart acquired the video-on-demand service VUDU and a “new advertising technology” that supported shoppable content on it. That move never quite worked out, and the retailer also is less interested nowadays in shilling movie purchases and rentals. So, last spring, Walmart agreed to sell VUDU to Fandango.

Still, this doesn’t mean that Walmart is abandoning its shoppable programming push. They did move into releasing original content with their first series, a Mr. Mom reboot, which included shoppable ads, with more series said to come.

So don’t let the VUDU sale fool you. Walmart’s next play may be more about scale and penetration than anything else. Case in point: the TikTok play. VUDU comes installed in 100 million living room devices in the U.S. (smart TVs, game consoles, and other over-the-top streaming devices), which doesn’t equate to viewers — just reach. TikTok, on the other hand, has 850 million active users worldwide per month. In the U.S., 33% of TikTok users are 19 and younger, which delivers a valuable youth demographic. This is one piece of the pie, which leads me to dive into what I’m predicting to be Walmart’s next move.

Hulu or Netflix?

Walmart isn’t a niche player — they don’t just want a demographic slice. They want the whole damn pie, which is precisely what either Netflix or Hulu help deliver: an older demographic with compelling numbers (Netflix: 73 million paid subscribers, Hulu: 36.6 million paid subscribers).

Hulu is owned by Comcast and Disney, both of which have their own streaming platform. Disney+ is continually growing (i.e., the recent investments in Star Wars and Marvel shows), and it’s a significant part of their COVID revenue now that parks & resorts are shut down. But, with Disney+ representing the family content Disney is known for, and Hulu is a broader, more adult version of content, will they still feel the need to maintain it? Or will they refocus toward the family-friendly space as they did prior to the Fox acquisition?

And what about Netflix? They don’t own the intellectual properties Disney does — with that sweet, sweet built-in audience. More so, despite the largest subscription audience, they’re losing ground in production capabilities due to the pandemic. They simply don’t have the same name brand backlog Disney does. So, how will they compete in 2021 without a lineup of original or owned content?

With its deep pockets and clear priority to create shoppable content, Walmart has all the means to make the moves. And it’s not just about everyday low prices. It’s about everyday access to anything you see, everywhere you look.

As monsters like Walmart and Amazon battle it out, in 2021, the path forward will be cleared for innovative brands and agencies who stake their claim in the next content frontier.

For more ramblings like this, check out more articles from James here.

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