Walmart filed multiple trademark applications related to cryptocurrency and the metaverse on December 30.
Other companies are leaning into the metaverse.
"Walmart is more likely to be inspired by Adidas and Nike than say Facebook," said Animoca Brands Executive Chairman Yat Siu.
On Sunday, CNBC reported that Walmart had "quietly" filed at least seven applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on December 30, clearing the way for it to issue its own cryptocurrency and NFTs within a metaverse—the hot term for an online network of worlds that mixes elements of physical, augmented, and virtual reality.
The largest American retailer isn't exactly known for being in vogue and its sheer bigness may feel anathema to decentralized tech—almost like Facebook, which has been mocked within crypto circles for its metaversal pivot.
Nonetheless, some of the biggest companies in the metaverse and NFT space told Decrypt they welcome Walmart's potential addition to the fold. "I'm pleased to see interest from many new players and would encourage them to embrace an open and community-driven approach," said The Sandbox COO and co-founder Sébastian Borget, referring to a metaverse built upon public and permissionless blockchains such as Ethereum.
That's the approach of The Sandbox, a game where people can buy and use NFTs—the blockchain-based deeds that confer rights or privileges to linked digital or physical assets—to craft virtual worlds alongside other players. Walmart's trademark applications nod in a similar direction. In addition to an application for a "digital currency and a digital token of value for use by members of an online community via a global computer network," Walmart filed another application related to a store selling virtual merchandise such as "electronics, appliances, indoor and outdoor furniture, home décor, toys … holiday and celebration supplies, jewelry, and pet products"—essentially everything that a physical Walmart would sell, but in digital form.
Yat Siu, co-founder and executive chairman of The Sandbox publisher and NFT mega-investor Animoca Brands, told Decrypt back in October that Facebook represented a "threat" to the open metaverse the company is trying to build. The social media giant went so far as to rename itself Meta to emphasize its commitment to a "Ready Player One"-like experience. Siu doesn't see Walmart in the same way. "Facebook is looking to build a closed metaverse, one where they control the data and the network effects that the data derives, so what they are building is less competition than simply antithetical to what we are doing," he told Decrypt this week.
"We don’t know enough yet about what Walmart is doing but the fact that they are looking to issue a digital currency and NFTs if they use a public blockchain could be positive if they do so in the open metaverse." Given that Walmart has grown by embracing free trade in its business strategy, added Siu: "Walmart is more likely to be inspired by Adidas and Nike than say Facebook." Apparel brand Nike bought a digital art studio in December, barely a month after applying for virtual goods trademarks, so that it could churn out NFT-based sneakers.
Adidas teamed up last month with Bored Ape Yacht Club to issue its own goods within the metaverse. (Other companies are looking to create their own metaverse or stake out substantial holdings in someone else's; Microsoft pitched its $69 billion acquisition this week of game-maker Activision Blizzard as a metaverse play.) Investment firm founder turned NFT and metaverse evangelist Jenny Q. Ta told Decrypt that Walmart's move just makes sense, suggesting that its strategy is "dominating the digital-Metaverse world as [it has] already done in the real world." The NFT quotient is geared toward its e-commerce offerings as it looks into "emerging technologies which will shape the future shopping experience." Siu isn't so sure any one company can dominate in an open metaverse. "Invariably, NFTs with limited or controlled utility with limited or no ownership won’t work in the Metaverse," he said.
Borget indicated that Walmart hasn't made any announcements related to the metaverse. While the applications constitute an RSVP, the retailer hasn't yet made it to the party. Indeed, back in 2019, Walmart filed a patent for a stablecoin—a cryptocurrency designed to hold its value with minimal volatility—aimed at low-income households who needed a fee-free, or fee-minimal place to store wealth that can be spent, for example, at retailers and, if needed, easily converted to cash."
That filing also came shortly after a Facebook announcement: the June 2019 unveiling of Libra, envisioned as a fiat-pegged stablecoin to be governed by the social media firm and several dozen other prominent companies and organizations. Though Facebook last year did launch its Novi crypto wallet, the cryptocurrency that exists on white paper still doesn't exist in the real world. Nor does Walmart's stablecoin. Perhaps you'll find them someday in the metaverse.