Can Squid Game fashion outlast Halloween?

Playing the retail game.
Playing the retail game.
Image: YouTube Screenshot/Netflix.
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Netflix and Walmart are coming together to cash in on Squid Game fever.

America’s largest retailer has created a dedicated digital storefront for the streaming giant, putting its t-shirts, plushies, and collectibles in front of everyone browsing Walmart’s website. Fans can find merchandise related to the recent hyperviolent Korean survival drama Squid Game, popular supernatural series Stranger Things, and more.

The move is all about branding and promotion, experts say. “Netflix already resides in the homes of its more than 200 million subscribers, but offering products that fans can use and wear every day cements Netflix’s series in a more personal, tangible way,” Baruch Labunski, CEO and co-founder of marketing services firm Rank Secure, told Quartz. “Fans become brand ambassadors and promoters when they’re wearing a Stranger Things T-shirt.”

In the past, Netflix inked partnerships with the likes of Target, Amazon, H&M, Sephora, Hot Topic, and others. While it’s been selling paraphernalia on Walmart since 2018, shoppers had to search for the items, or sift through the site’s overwhelmingly large catalogue to find them. There wasn’t one central hub.

In June, Netflix debuted in the US to sell apparel and lifestyle products relating to its shows and movies. However, no new website has the potential of 400 million customers waiting in the wings like Walmart’s does.

Netflix is riding the Squid game wave…

Netflix, which has been dipping its toes in e-commerce since 2017. If its Squid Game sales are promising, it could spur the company to sell more merchandise and open up several avenues for capitalizing on its successful original titles.

Back in 2020, co-CEO Reed Hasting said, ” we’re definitely focused on creating franchises.” Much like behemoth studies Disney and Universal, and TV-turned-streaming-giant HBO, Netflix could create additional revenue lines that live beyond the screen by fostering additional tentpole titles. These retail moves are especially important because subscriber growth has slowed drastically.

Clothes, mugs, and blankets are likely just the firms steps. Video games, smart speakers, and even amusement parks could be in the cards if Netflix is able to sustain the momentum of its originals among viewers. Earlier this year, the company hired former executives from Electronic Arts and Facebook to spearhead its video games initiative. It is already testing mobile gaming with two original offerings: Stranger Things 1984 and Stranger Games 3.

But, like with all things popular, there’s a catch: Others may have already beat Netflix to the mark. Squid Game counterfeits are already flooding Amazon, Etsy, and eBay.

In addition, Squid Game, given its dark and adult themes, may not be the best litmus test. Schools have already issued warnings about children watching the show and mirroring behavior from it.

..and Walmart will help Netflix sell merch

Vans, the sneaker company, saw sales of its white slip-on footwear, which mirror the shoes the impoverished contestants wear on the show, skyrocket 7,800 in the three weeks after Squid Game‘s Sept.17 release. Within days of the show’s debut, global searches for retro-inspired tracksuits jumped 97%, according to fashion database Lyst, adding that the costumes of the players were “no doubt the outfit of choice for Halloween.”

Independent sites are also promising to deliver the costumes and masks before Halloween in banner ads.

And it’s not just the attire that’s captured interests. Even the props from the various “games” in the show are in demand. For instance, dalgona cookies from the honeycomb carving round are gaining popularity. Sales for marbles, used in another another game, increased 860% on Auction, a Korean eBay-esque site.

After Halloween, the appetite for Squid Game-related items at smaller retailers will likely run its course and they’re unlikely to keep stocking them once the fervor has subsided. But teaming with Walmart will allow Netflix to profit from even the smallest spikes in demand well beyond Halloween.

“Netflix’s original content is available year-round, but there are certainly spikes in viewing when a new season debuts,” said Labunski. “Likewise, we can expect seasonal, or at least variable, fluctuations in merchandise. By partnering with Walmart, Netflix gets to leverage the monster corporation’s infrastructure in a way that will make variable demands (for merchandise and on the website) much more manageable.”