Netflix.shop, the Shopify-powered online store where Netflix fans could purchase official merchandise based on their favourite shows, just launched a few months ago, in June 2021.
But this week, the streaming giant took its consumer merchandise plans one enormous step forward by launching Netflix Hub at Walmart.
When Netflix.shop was first announced, I wrote about why it was such a smart idea, despite the fact that revenue generated from sales on the site would likely be minimal:
"... if fans purchase branded merchandise to support a show they love, that's free advertising for the show... and that drives interest, subscriptions, and revenue for the streaming giant. As a general rule, when you can get your customers to pay YOU to promote your wares, you should almost certainly do it."
But the Netflix store idea was always going to have one major hurdle: if Netflix wanted people to visit their online shop, they'd actually have to tell people about their online shop.
And given the primary goal of Netflix.shop was promotion (not profit), the marketing dollars needed to tell people about the online store were always going to be better spent letting people about the latest content offerings available to subscribers.
Netflix Hub at Walmart addresses this challenge in a mutually beneficial way.
Netflix gets instant access to Walmart's daily store and site traffic. Every person walking into a Walmart store (or visiting Walmart.com) now has the potential to be exposed to any and all Netflix merchandise on display, and that's essentially free advertising and increased momentum for Netflix's latest content offerings.
(And let's be clear: that's the reason Netflix has a consumer products business in the first place. Netflix Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Reed Hastings confirmed as much to Wall Street analysts recently when, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, he said, “It’s enhancing the big service that we have... The reason we’re doing [e-commerce and videogames] is to help the subscription service grow and be more important in people’s lives.”)
Walmart not only benefits from the revenue generated by unique and exclusive Netflix merchandise sold in its locations but also increases its "cool factor" by offering exclusive items from one of the world's most popular brands.
And as an added bonus to both companies, Amazon (who competes with Walmart in retail and with Netflix in steaming) gets metaphorically poked with a sharp stick.
The Netflix Hub at Walmart idea also explicitly addresses one of the recommendations I made back when Netflix.shop debuted:
"If Netflix is looking for "easy merchandise", they'll go with T-shirts, hats, and hoodies. And they should definitely have all of those items available on the shopping site. But easy is boring. Netflix.shop could be so much more if they take the time to develop merchandise that really gets to the heart of each show. Things like Orange is the New Black prison jumpsuits, Money Heist masks, and official Tiger King tiger plushies might be more difficult to make work, but they allow hardcore fans to really appreciate the shows they love. And if the shopping site's primary goal is promotion (not monetization), this might be the better way to go."
Apparently, nobody working at Netflix reads my blog. Because if you visit Netflix.shop right now, most of what you'll find are... T-shirts, hats, and hoodies.
Even for Squid Game. Netflix has called the Korean drama its biggest show ever at launch, reporting that an astounding 111 million viewers tuned into the series during its first 17 days... and yet you can't buy the very distinctive onesies or masks so important to the show's plot, despite the fact that would have made for a perfect Halloween costume this year.
If you're a Squid Game fan, what you can buy are $35 T-shirts and $50 hoodies. That's it.
The Netflix Hub at Walmart promises to be different. The Walmart announcement takes a lot of space to identify all of the Walmart Exclusive items that will be available for fans, and there's a lot more than clothing available. My favourite item: this Geralt collectable statue.
Even better, Walmart boasts the Netflix Hub "will offer customers exclusive experiences to engage with popular Netflix shows in innovative ways. For example, we’ll soon launch a crowd-sourcing opportunity called Netflix Fan Select that will allow fans the opportunity to vote for merchandise they’d like to see from favored Netflix shows — and then Walmart merchants will bring them to life!"
Think about what that means: Walmart isn't just bringing another supplier on board, they're co-creating products with a huge (and massively popular) content producer to create in-store experiences for their shoppers. That's something that rival Amazon hasn't yet done, despite being both a retailer and an entertainment company.
The success of this initiative isn't guaranteed, of course. The merchandise these two giants co-create could prove unpopular for any number of reasons, and there's nothing that dulls excitement for a new partnership more than a subsequent lack of sales.
But you certainly can't accuse Walmart of not innovating or Netflix of not being strategic.
And maybe, just maybe, those Squid Game onesies and masks will be available at my local Walmart for next Halloween.