Article by Carol Spieckerman, 06/12/13
Walmart annual shareholders’ week events are always
surprise-filled, get-out-the-pom-poms, feel-good fests, and last week’s was no
exception. Last Friday’s crescendo event, led by master of ceremonies Hugh
Jackman, featured a star-studded line-up that included John Legend tickling the
ivories, Kelly Clarkson belting out her latest single, Tom Cruise teeing up
Walmart’s good deeds, and Jennifer Hudson providing the send-off. Once again,
Walmart brought on the wow.
As always, key themes and visual cues were sandwiched between
acts and hammered home often, including opportunities for career advancement
within Walmart, its veteran hiring and women’s empowerment initiatives, diversity,
globalization, and adamant avowals of corporate integrity. The media hasn’t
wasted any time documenting the controversies currently surrounding a couple of
these items and I’m not going to pile on here.
The fact is, retail as a whole is in a state of upheaval as
retailers attempt to figure out how best to leverage their growing portfolios
of physical, digital, social, local, and mobile assets. Contrary to much of
what is being put out in the media, deciding whether or not to jump into these
spaces isn’t what’s keeping retailers awake at night, as most, including
Walmart, have already taken many plunges. In fact, Walmart has pursued new frontiers earlier and with more verve than its rivals. The sheer number
of initiatives that Walmart has undertaken over the past couple of years and its
willingness to challenge legacy systems make it a fascinating study in retail
future-proofing. As the world’s largest retailer hits the mid-year mark, much
can be learned from the way it has gone about building its platform on several fronts. However, simply tracking the multiplying news flashes coming out of
Walmart can make it difficult to see the full picture.
Below, I frame Walmart’s tactics in three themes that encapsulate how it serves as a bellwether for retail’s transformation, throwing in a few predictions on what its comprehensive approach might mean for retail in the future.
1. Distance makes innovation grow faster