Walmart Wakes up and Smells the Multi-Channel Brew(ing)

Earlier this month, we covered Kerry Cooper, Walmart’s Vice President of E-commerce’s presentation.  It looks like the details of the cliff-hanger that she left the audience with: that “major announcements” would be coming out of Walmart in regard to multi-channel, are already starting to unfold. 

In her presentation, Ms. Cooper specifically identified three customer expectations that Walmart will address going forward: access, immediacy and relevancy.  In terms of immediacy, she stated that there was no reason that customers shouldn’t expect to receive their purchases “either today or tomorrow.” 

Solved!  Walmart has announced that it will test two new programs: “Pick Up Today” and “FedEx Site to Store,” which in tandem will allow Walmart customers to order online and pick up at one of nearly 800 Walmart stores within four hours (versus several days later via Walmart’s initial Site-to-Store program). Taking it a step further, customers can also check local store inventory before placing orders.  No small hurdle going forward as Walmart marches on with localization and store-specific assortments.

We have been predicting for a while that other retailers, including Walmart, would finally take notice of what Sears has been up to . . . then do something about it.  I'll say it again: "Yes, Sears."  While Walmart, Target, Walgreen and other biggies obsessed on store remodels, SKU rationalization and all manner of initiatives on terra firma, Sears quietly went about building out non-carbon-based platforms that promise to transform the stores in the long run.  At Sears' annual meeting, Chairman Eddie Lampert teased the audience with the statement, "Five years from now, I believe this company, to some people, will be unrecognizable compared to what the company was 20, 30, or 40 years ago."  A few months later, that vision is already taking shape.

I caught Walmart taking its first sip of coffee during Mike Duke's address at the June shareholders' meeting when he said, "We have to develop the right channels for customers to shop when they want, how they want, and where they want. Quite frankly, some of our competitors are ahead of us here. So let me be clear: Building the best website will be just as important as getting our store formats right." He also mentioned building more small stores and having "many more points of distribution."  Caution:  Don't get too caught up in "many" and "small."  "Points of distribution" is the key.  To me, Walmart's recent about face can be summed up as:  "Project Impact?  'Win, play, show?' We've been missing the point! The stores should be transformed by online, not the other way around."  When the pallets got plunked back down in Action Alley soon after Mr. Duke's address, I heard "Okay, there!  Now, let's move on!“ 

Flash forward . . . During this month's 17th Annual Meeting for the Investment Community, Adrienne Shapiro, an analyst for Goldman Sachs, asked how Walmart was balancing its online and offline businesses.  Eduardo Castro Wright, Walmart's Vice Chairman of Global Sourcing and Global eCommerce, responded that Walmart's advantage is its "physical presence" and that "having those small stores in urban areas, for example, would give us the opportunity to actually sell product online that gets delivered to those distribution points."  Ya think?  Hello, MyGofer!  Always right, sometimes early!

Bottom line:  There's a reason that Walmart hasn't declared Neighborhood Market its default small format.  The future won't look anything like it.  Pick-up hub anyone?