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Walmart CTO: 'Crypto will become an important part of how customers transact’

Walmart (WMT) made headlines late last year, when the company sought several new trademarks that signaled its intent to make and sell virtual goods in the metaverse. Now, the retail giant’s Global Chief Technology Officer says crypto transactions will be right "in the middle" of its digital strategy moving forward.

Speaking at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit (video above), Suresh Kumar said he envisions a future where digital assets will be used both in Walmart’s online stores and in the virtual world.

“Crypto will become an important part of how customers transact,” Kumar said. “We want to make sure that we make it as friction free for customers …so that they are able to drive value out of it.”

That vision reflects an increased emphasis on the development of emerging technologies at the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant since Kumar took the helm as the company’s first CTO back in 2019. In three years on the job, Kumar has built out a team of 20,000 workers globally, with another 5,000 tech workers and open tech hubs being established in Atlanta and Toronto.

Speculation has swirled around Walmart’s crypto ambitions since the company filed seven separate trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in December 2021, indicating a desire to sell virtual goods, including electronics, appliances, and personal care products. It also expressed an intent to offer users a virtual currency, including NFTs. Since then, the company has largely remained mum on how it plans to integrate crypto in the retailer’s larger footprint.

Toronto , Canada - 23 June 2022; Suresh Kumar, CTO & Chief Development Officer, Walmart, on Auto/Tech & TalkRobot Stage during day three of Collision 2022 at Enercare Centre in Toronto, Canada. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images)
Toronto , Canada - 23 June 2022; Suresh Kumar, CTO & Chief Development Officer, Walmart, on Auto/Tech & TalkRobot Stage during day three of Collision 2022 at Enercare Centre in Toronto, Canada. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images)

Kumar said he envisioned the use of digital assets to enable product discovery for customers at a time when shopping habits are changing rapidly. Specifically, he sees key use cases in the metaverse as well as live streams inside various social media apps.

“I think a lot of the disruption is going to start happening in terms of different payment methods, and different payment options,” he said.

Despite the price volatility in crypto assets this year, major marketers have doubled down on their ambitions, in part, because it creates the potential for new revenue streams and allows brands to expand beyond their core customers. Pringles and Taco Bell are among a growing list of names that have issued and sold NFTs to appeal to younger customers, while Nike (NKE) partnered with Roblox (RBLX) to build out an online world called Nikeland, to sell virtual goods.

NFTs are increasingly being used to create unique digital experiences, allowing brands to engage with customers who prefer to spend more time in virtual worlds or the metaverse, instead of physical stores, according to research by CB Insights.

The global metaverse market alone is expected to reach nearly $400 billion in the next two years with virtual assets like NFTs and hardware driving the gains, according to Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Walmart has already integrated the use of blockchain technology at the core of crypto assets, with the development of a system that allows the retailer to track the origins of the produce and products they sell. The company is also exploring the technology’s use as a way to automate logistics transactions between suppliers and carriers.

Kumar said the company is focusing its tech investments on three key areas, including in improving customer experience, and driving efficiencies in the supply chain.

“We have got incredible computing power in the palm of our hands. We have mapped every single square inch of the planet. We have computers through deep learning that can recognize and understand natural language. And we have computers that can recognize objects,” Kumar said. “All of these things are coming together and they are the fuel for the next round of disruption that we are already starting to see. We are starting to see that in the way in which customers are finding, discovering, and getting inspired for new products.”

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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