And the next big thing in retail is… Wal-Mart?

How Wal-Mart is competing against technology companies like Amazon in the digital retail space.

Walmart logoI would bet that a majority of people wouldn’t expect a company that inspired the website peopleofwalmart.com would be one that is leading the way in digital innovation in retail, but as hard as it is to believe, it’s true.  Simply reading the first page of Wal-Mart’s annual report shows the emphasis they are putting on integrating the digital and physical shopping experience for their customers, or as the current CEO Doug McMillon puts it, Wal-Mart’s “intent on creating transformative growth by adding capabilities in e-commerce and mobile commerce”.  This emphasis on innovation is allowing Wal-Mart to stay competitive in the evolving digital retail space.

@WalmartLabs

Over the last decade the retail giant has made numerous investments in developing innovative ways to meet the evolving shopping needs of their customers.  In 2011 Wal-Mart launched @WalmartLabs, a division of the company dedicated to discovering and implementing new ways of improving the digital experience of their customers.  Over the years @WalmartLabs has introduced dozens of digital innovations and continues to test new innovations constantly.

Shipping Options

Amazon may be able to ship products directly to consumers’ homes, but so can Wal-Mart.  Innovations in shipping capabilities allow Wal-Mart shoppers to not only ship products to their home from Walmart.com, but also ship from online to a store near them to pick up later, ship a product from a Wal-Mart store to their home, reserve a product at a store to pick up same day and even get same day delivery in some areas.  Wal-Mart shoppers have a plethora of shipping and pickup options, all of which are easily available on Wal-Mart’s online and mobile platforms.  These options allow customers to pick whichever option works best for them on any given day.

The “Save Money. Live Better” Promise

Other innovations improving the consumer experience include Wal-Mart’s Savings Catcher.  This app allows user to enter any Wal-Mart product barcode and check to make sure they are paying (or paid) the lowest price when compared to other retailers.  If the Savings Catcher finds a lower price anywhere online, they pay the customer the difference in price.  Innovations like these reassure customers that they are paying the lowest price while strengthening the customer relationship.

Wal-Mart Exchange

In addition to innovations designed to improve the customer’s experience, Wal-Mart is also focusing on their media buyers.  One example of innovation in this area is the launch of Wal-Mart Exchange in 2014; a platform that allows media buyers to better target and, in real-time, serve relevant ads to customers on Walmart.com.  The platform also provides marketers access to SKU-level ad measurement, allowing their buyers to see the effectiveness of each ad.  With both online and in-store customer data, Wal-Mart is in a position to provide their suppliers with more robust data than their competitors can.

The list of digital innovations at Wal-Mart goes on, including grocery pick, local inventory maps, and streamlining their mobile and online user interfaces.  Amazon may be the current leader in e-commerce, but the combination of Wal-Mart’s stores, mobile and online platforms, and their emphasis on digital innovation puts them in a great place to continue to be a leader in retail far into the future.

 

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Student comments on And the next big thing in retail is… Wal-Mart?

  1. “Belowthefold,” thank you bringing attention to a retail giant’s unlikely focus on digital innovation. I spent the summer at Walmart’s Global ECommerce, and had the opportunity to witness first-hand many of the innovations you mentioned. The company certainly has many remaining challenges to compete with Amazon, but it is exactly these challenges (and the existing solutions you discussed above) that make it such a fascinating place to work with an MBA. I cannot say for sure whether Walmart will continue to be a winner, but it definitely has the scale and resources to control its destiny.

  2. It was interesting to learn about Wal-Mart’s Savings Catcher, I’ll have to use it next time I’m make a big purchase at Wal-Mart! I’m curious how many customers actually download the app and use the app’s functionality. I’m also curious how much Wal-Mart may lose in sales through this app.

  3. Great post! I was on the team that launched Walmart’s Savings Catcher. The biggest challenge (as you have aptly called out) is that Walmart is not top of mind amongst digital innovators, creating significant barriers to adoption of their digital services. When you think digital retail, you immediately think Amazon, or perhaps Apple Stores. Hopefully Walmart can be on that list some time soon.

  4. Definitely did not think Wal-Mart as a digital innovator, so thank you for bringing that to my attention! Now, I wonder, how much digital innovation does Wal-Mart really need? Do you think that physical grocery stores will ever go away? I gut feeling is no, at least within my lifetime, because I personally still like to shop for my groceries in a physical location; there is just something about ordering bananas or apples from a website that doesn’t sit right with me, even though I order almost everything else from Amazon or eBay.

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