Walmart makes its debut at Las Vegas’ annual tech tradeshow

In June 2023, Walmart executives went to their longtime partner Leo Events with an idea: bring Walmart to CES for the first time. The Walmart team wanted to give CES attendees a peek into what the company has done and is doing in the technology field, seeing CES as an opportunity to highlight that, beyond convenience and low prices, Walmart is a tech-forward company.

After months of content building, planning and execution, a two-story 50’ x 140’ museum-like walkthrough activation emerged, which Leo Events ensured would be a memorable experience for all who took the journey. Although the original idea was brought to Leo in June, the team didn’t begin to work on the project until August, so with the event just five months out, there was little time to get things done before Jan. 9, the first day of CES.

“It takes three things to make a successful event,” says David Kenyon, senior vice president for Leo Events. “You can have high-quality investments, you can have an inexpensive investment or you can create an event in a truncated timeline but you only get two of those three. If it’s high quality that has a short timeline it’s going to incur more costs. If it’s inexpensive and a short timeline the quality will suffer. They didn’t have time on their side, and they weren’t about sacrifice quality of experience.”

The Walmart Experience

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Walmart timeline activation

As soon as visitors stepped into the doors of the activation, they were met with three screens that showed several U.S. patents owned by Walmart, related to shipping and deployment of inventory.

To the right of this exhibit is where the journey began.

Visitors could see and interact with a screen that displayed a timeline running from the 1960s to 2021, noting landmark moments from the creation of discount stores in the 1960s to the formation of the Walmart Satellite Network in 1988, which remains the largest private satellite communication system in the United States to the current day. In addition to the walkthrough experience, the activation also housed five meeting spaces—three on the second floor and two on the first—where those interested in learning more could meet with Walmart executives.

After the timeline, visitors could play a pallet building game to race against the AI that packs the pallets at Walmart distribution centers to see who could stack them the fastest. Kenyon said, on average, players stacked between 12% and 16% of what the AI could. Visitors then attended a demonstration of how Walmart uses AR to update warehouse inventory, and later, could try an app that allows users to try on clothing virtually.

Making it Memorable

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Walmart Experience 4D ride

One of the most popular points of the Walmart Experience was the 4D ride that came at the end of the walkthrough, something Kenyon says almost didn’t happen. “I didn’t think it would survive the scrutiny over the year,” he said, “but it did. It stuck and it’s a hit. It’s been run about 75 times a day; it’s been packed every single day.”

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Kenyon said he wanted to create a memorable experience. All the talk about drone delivery—Walmart has completed about 20,000 across seven U.S. states to date—and watching the videos of the conveyor belts in the distribution centers sparked the idea of a 4D ride. Leo partnered with a park manufacturing company that has created rides for malls and amusement parks, small and large; it uses the same technology used at Disneyworld and EPCOT.

Similar to a ride you may experience at Disneyland or Universal Studios, Walmart’s 4D ride was an immersive four-minute-and-forty-second experience that took riders along for the journey as loads of strawberries went through the supply chain: from being grown on a farm, taken through the manufacturing process in Walmart’s fulfillment centers, distributed to individual Walmart stores and eventually sold to customers.

The 4D aspect came into play throughout the entire experience. Two rows of seats moved in all directions as visitors saw aerial shots of farms and distribution centers. Mist and air emerged from vents in front of arm rests to mimic coasting through the clouds, and the smell of strawberries wafted throughout the room via air filtration and air compression of strawberry-scented pellet packs as the on-screen strawberries made their way into a cake as part of a birthday celebration.

Leo handled the production of the video, picking the facilities it would be shot in and using drones piloted by a professional drone racer to take aerial shots of the farms, distribution centers and residential neighborhoods.

According to Kelly Rothberger, senior associate producer for Leo, who played a large role in the construction of the activation, the ride will live on beyond CES. Its next stop is Arkansas, where shareholders will get to enjoy a viewing.