Walmart rolls out a virtual ‘toy lab’ to demo new holiday toy product lineup

To win over potential young customers, Walmart is getting creative.

On Friday, Walmart launched a website called the “Toy Lab” that helps children learn about its products through demonstrations and then put them on wish lists for the holidays. The site is both a marketing and data play — it gets the word out on Walmart’s newly branded toy store (it now calls its toy category “America’s Best Toy Store”) and helps the retailer learn which products resonate best with children.

On the Toy Lab site, children can express interest in learning more about the toys in which they’re most interested. The videos show children playing with the toys close up and from various angles. The video’s child host provides overview commentary. At the conclusion of the video, the children are prompted to select which toys should be on their holiday gift lists, and which ones aren’t a fit. The site will be active until the end of the 2018 holiday season. All of the 20 toys in the Toy Lab received positive feedback during focus testing the company undertook a couple of months ago, and some of the 20 products are Walmart exclusives.

For Walmart, the site is meant to help it learn more about which items are the most popular and generate the greatest number of interactions.

“This was a way for us to make the toy catalog more fun, engaging and interactive — it’s a way to experience what these types of toys are like as [customers] plan purchases,” said Walmart spokesperson Tara House. “What will be interesting is what gets the most attention, what [content] the kids are engaging most with, and what ends up on the wish lists.”

In August, Walmart rebranded its toy store to “America’s Best Toy Shop,” which included an expanded selection (including Walmart-exclusive items from major brands), a focus on in-store events and demonstrations and marketing through “toy influencers” who post content to YouTube. The push to bring new inventory, events and toy-related content comes at a time when retailers across the board, including Target and Kohl’s, are competing to win market share this holiday season.

“This is about getting feedback and buzz,” said Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Kodali. “Maybe part of it is to replicate some of the magnetic qualities of product review videos on YouTube.”

Walmart is taking advantage of the growth of product reviews on YouTube, and their popularity among kids, through pre-roll and mid-roll digital ads on YouTube promoting the Toy Lab. The Toy Lab also gives the retailer the opportunity to test how receptive customer segments are to the product offering, information that may be useful as it assesses inventory demands for the future.

“Walmart will gain a lot of information here on what toys are most enjoyed through this experience, what types of interactions cause most conversions, and if videos work better than [other] interactions,” said Jonathan Smalley, CEO of data-analytics company Yaguara. “Once Walmart has collected this data, it will be able to extrapolate the results from this experience across their whole library of toys as well as across new departments.”

To build out the website, Walmart worked with tech company Eko, with which it last month entered into a joint venture to develop interactive content, including videos, to market products to consumers. Beyond interactive toy catalogs, the joint venture with Eko, in which Walmart reportedly invested $250 million, will include cooking shows and other digital content that will go “beyond the basic personalization available today,” according to a statement announcing the partnership.

Alon Benari, chief creative officer of Eko, said the goal is to re-imagine what a toy catalog represents, replacing static images with live-action videos and other interactive features to captivate customers.

“We’re looking at it more from a conceptual standpoint,” he said. “It’s about how to get people to have a two-way conversation with the video content.”

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