Wal-Mart Sponsors 'American Idol' for Innovative Products

Retail Sales

Inventors take note: A short YouTube video could land your product on the shelves of the world’s largest discount retailer.

Wal-Mart’s new contest, called “Get On The Shelf,” allows inventors to submit a video showcasing their product, and after an online vote from consumers, the winning product will be carried at select Wal-Mart stores and at Walmart.com (NYSE:WMT).

Wal-Mart announced the contest in mid-January, and already has more than 800 product submissions, according to company spokesperson Ravi Jariwala.

“The number of submissions over the first couple of days was incredible, and we are continuing to see really strong interest and activity,” says Jariwala. "We keep likening it to American Idol because it’s the first contest of its kind from a major retailer that lets anyone who has a product have a chance to get their  item carried in Wal-Mart stores."

At the contest website, www.getontheshelf.com, Jariwala says submissions run the gambit, including a new hot sauce, a game cube and even hair-care products. When it comes to how developed the product needs to be, Jariwala says there are no rules.

“We wanted to keep it open. So we may see people who simply have a great idea and are making the video in their living room, and we may see people who already have a product that’s being manufactured and sold at a local gift shop,” he says. “One of the rules is that the product can’t already be sold at Wal-Mart.”

According to Jariwala, the impetus behind the contest was to get new products in stores.

“We recognize that there are some exciting undiscovered products that have not reached our shelves,” he says. “We felt this was the perfect way to give our consumers something they want and never seen before.”

Anyone interested in submitting an idea can upload their video to YouTube and the Get on the Shelf site by Feb. 22. The first round of voting will take place March 2-April 4, and the second round runs April 11-24, after which a winner will be chosen. Although there will only be one “grand prize winner,” whose products will be sold in Wal-Mart stores and Walmart.com, three runners up will also have an opportunity to sell their products on Walmart.com.

In the event that the winners are unable to afford the manufacture of their product, Jariwala says that’s something Wal-Mart will explore on a case-by-case basis.

“Our goal is to allow our customers and fans to help pick the next product they want at Wal-Mart. If a winner is selected that needs additional help with production, we will certainly take a look at ways we can assist that inventor with a supplier,” he says. “Honestly, this is the very first time we are doing this, so we are learning as well, and we will be learning as we go about what we can do to help the winner.”

As for how Wal-Mart will choose which stores the winning product is sold in, Jariwala says the decision will be based on the type of product and the needs of the various Wal-Marts around the country.

“If we have an inventor in Florida who has created an awesome snow sled, chances are that inventor won’t see their product for sale at their local Wal-Mart,” he says. “We would stock that item in a region like the North or the Midwestern Plains where snow sledding is much more applicable.”

As for the voting process, Jariwala says contestants are encouraged to do as much guerilla marketing of their invention as possible, via Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

“We want to find the diamond in the rough,” he says. “This just gives us a new way to discover the next great product.”