Walmart is taking a page from Alibaba's playbook in China, as it looks to help pioneer live shopping events in the US on TikTok

  • Walmart just launched a new live shopping experience on the social media platform TikTok. 
  • "We want to do everything that we can to shorten that distance from inspiration to purchase, taking out any friction," Walmart Chief Marketing Officer William White said.
  • The pivot to TikTok could allow Walmart to become an early pioneer in live shopping in the US and woo Gen Z consumers.
  • "The TikTok generation is, if you look at the data in terms of frequency of visits, actually one of Walmart's most loyal segments shopping in their physical stores," InMarket Chief Strategy Officer Michael Della Penna told Business Insider.
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Walmart recently launched its first-ever live shopping experience on TikTok. But the holiday-themed event, which featured a bevy of established and up-and-coming influencers, was more than just an opportunity for the Arkansas-based retailer to show off its e-commerce chops. Through the partnership, Walmart wants to become an early pioneer in bringing live online shopping experiences on TikTok to the United States. 

TikTok, with its focus on video streaming and community building, offers a unique opportunity for the retail giant. In China, Alibaba has long dominated the world of e-commerce with its extravagant live shopping bonanzas. But no one has come close to replicating that success in the US market. 

Walmart's Chief Marketing Officer William White said Walmart's recent collaboration with TikTok stems from the company's ultimate goal of reaching customers wherever they are. As of September, TikTok had accrued at least 100 million users in the US. Earlier this year, the retailer entered a tentative agreement to buy up to 7.5% of TikTok Global, "as well as enter into commercial agreements to provide our ecommerce, fulfillment, payments and other omnichannel services to TikTok Global," according to a Walmart spokesperson. 

Read more: As Walmart leverages its stores to meet growing e-commerce demand, it's determined not to repeat the mistakes of rival Amazon with Whole Foods

"We want to do everything that we can to shorten that distance from inspiration to purchase, taking out any friction," White said.

The video platform also offers Walmart an opportunity to meet one specific and lucrative demographic where they are: Gen Z. TikTok is particularly popular with the generation, and according to Mike Della Penna, the chief strategy officer of marketing platform InMarket, that's an age group that holds a lot of value to Walmart.

"The TikTok generation is, if you look at the data in terms of frequency of visits, actually one of Walmart's most loyal segments shopping in their physical stores," Della Penna told Business Insider.

InMarket found that Gen Z shoppers averaged 3.41 visits per customer to Walmart in the third quarter of 2020. While they make up a smaller group of shoppers compared to Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomers, Gen Z shoppers visit Walmart's physical stores more often than other generations, InMarket said. And according to Della Penna, Walmart's migration to TikTok is an excellent means of securing that loyalty in the future. 

"Walmart is able to engage with those consumers in a unique and innovative way, and reach them where they are spending more and more of their time," Della Penna said. "This is super important as you look at the competitive landscape."

White said that Walmart specifically sought out TikTok influencers who would appeal to its consumer base on the platform.

"We've chosen a group that's going to be representative of who our customer is on TikTok," White said. "But of course we're also always looking to connect with new customers. Certainly the Gen Z demo is one that is big on the platform and we're looking to engage with them there."

Walmart largely viewed the inaugural livestream shopping event with TikTok as a "learning journey" for it to glean insights. The retailer worked closely with the social media platform to bring about the "seamless" shopping event, White said. Similar to the Walmart livestream on December 18, shoppers going forward will be able to click on pop-up pins during shopping events. By clicking on those pins, they can automatically add a product to a Walmart cart embedded within the TikTok app, and purchase items, without ever leaving the stream.

Given that Walmart has only just entered the world of TikTok e-commerce, it won't be scrutinizing sales numbers early on, White said. Instead, the retailer will look into metrics like how many TikTok users engaged with the livestream, as well as the length and intensity of their engagements.  

"We think TikTok will be a place where people are going to really respond to it," White said. 

And Walmart isn't constrained in its view of the goods it could potentially tout on the social media platform. Initially, Walmart will focus on the fashion category as part of its TikTok strategy, focusing on in-house apparel brands and outside companies like Kendall + Kylie, Jordache, and Champion. White said that fashion proved to be a natural jumping off point, as it is a "passion point" for many creators on the platform.

"But I think the opportunity really goes into a number of different places," he said. "As we continue to innovate, I would expect that we will branch out beyond that category and to the breadth of categories that we sell within the Walmart universe."

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