Walmart Multichannel on a Roll

After hearing her presentation at the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce’s WalStreet Speaker Series, it is clear that Kerry Cooper, Walmart’s Vice President of Global E-commerce, is no longer “pushing a rock uphill.”

According to Ms. Cooper, until very recently, Walmart.com has operated largely as a stand-alone, with few ties to the main organization. Even with more than one billion hits per year, and one of the largest online product assortments, Walmart.com has operated without the benefit of some of the retailer’s most powerful operational resources (i.e., Retail Link), and without the wholehearted support from many of its merchandisers (Walmart.com was seen in some cases as a competitive entity rather than a synergistic connection point).

In May of last year, we covered a presentation by PK Van Deloo, Walmart.com’s Senior Marketing Director, in which he shared how Walmart was beginning to leverage its website to capture and analyze shopper insights. 

Walmart has since folded its online merchandising, operations, and marketing areas into the main organization, a meaningful step toward achieving true multi-channel integration and delivering on Walmart’s often stated goal to “connect her (the shopper’s) world.” 

Ms. Cooper’s identified four drivers for Walmart.com’s go-forward strategy:

1. Global

The sheer size of the emerging online consumer market spells both opportunity and “opportunity” (Walmart-speak for challenge) for retailers.  While the U.S. and Europe account for one half of all online retail sales today, that number will shrink to about one third of sales in just a few years as Asian consumers begin to do more shopping via the web. Interestingly, when assessing the market potential, Ms. Cooper’s eye is not trained on the usual suspects like Amazon; instead, she’s watching Tabobao.com, China's most successful C-to-C online marketplace.  Tabobao attracted 1.8 billion visitors (non-unique) last year, roughly the equivalent of every single person in China visiting the site at least once.  Tabobo.com also boasts 190 million active users who have generated $39 billion in sales (a mere 2% of total Chinese retail sales).  Apply Walmart’s exponential potential and you can see why their eye is on Asia!

As Mike Duke, Walmart’s CEO, made clear in this year’s shareholders’ address, Walmart is fully committed to becoming a truly global company.  Given the stats, Walmart.com must figure prominently in that vision.

2. Social Media

With more than 500 million users, Ms. Cooper sees Facebook as just one example of an untapped social frontier for Walmart that must be integrated into its e-commerce strategy.  Walmart is eyeing new ways to “authentically connect” with these enthusiasts and provide the content that they want, whether through fan forums, product reviews, or simple one-to-one referrals. In so doing, Walmart will build a foundation of trust that will lead to loyalty.

3. Mobile

Walmart has been experimenting with mobile technology for the last few years, particularly SMS. Whether providing a site-to-store notification or highlighting a value of the day, Walmart will continue to find new ways to use mobile alerts to meet customers’ needs for instantaneous information. Smartphones, particularly iPhones and Androids, are central to Walmart’s multi-channel mobile strategy as well since the number of these users has skyrocketed to 100 million in just a few quarters.  Walmart.com is determined to be accessible to these users as they browse products, compare prices, seek store locations, and check for availability both in store and online. 

4. Multimedia

Since consumers increasingly rely on video for information as much as entertainment, multimedia platforms will also be integrated into Walmart.com.

Walmart is balancing these rapidly-evolving marketplace dynamics with its customer’s online expectations, which according to Ms. Cooper are access, immediacy and relevancy.

Walmart’s multi-channel platform must allow customers to access the brand with ease and effectiveness through whatever vehicle they choose, while at the same time satisfying the customer’s need for immediacy.  Walmart is looking at new ways to get products to customers more quickly and efficiently – no doubt a driver for moves such as Walmart’s recently-announced partnership with FedEx.  As she pointed out, Walmart has over 3,700 “points of presence” and as such, there is no reason that every Walmart customer shouldn’t expect to receive their purchases “either today or tomorrow.”

Lastly, Walmart.com is identifying opportunities to become more relevant to their customers by integrating all connection points into a seamless customer experience rather than Walmart.com serving as an ancillary “pure discount destination.”

True to Walmart’s transparent culture, Ms. Cooper was quite open regarding Walmart.com’s shortcomings and its opportunities to improve user experience, make deeper connections with their online customers, and ultimately, commit to a long-term multi-channel strategy that exceeds customer expectations. 

Ms. Cooper left the audience with a bit of a cliff-hanging disclosure. According to her, “major announcements” are coming in the next few months, including hints at a near-term facelift and an expanded “Marketplace.”  This is not surprising, given that retailers, both maligned (Sears) and favored (Target), are reinventing and revisiting their multi-channel propositions as well.

At Walmart, the rock is now rolling down the hill. Just how fast they will have to run in order to stay “out front” is yet to be seen.