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[16 comments]

Walmart.com does its best Amazon imitation

August 5, 2014

Walmart may be struggling to drive traffic and sales increases in its stores, but it doesn't have that problem online. Walmart.com saw its sales rise 27 percent last quarter following a 30 percent increase in 2013, according to Internet Retailer. Now, Walmart's online arm is looking to further amp up its performance with a site upgrade that some are comparing to Amazon.com.

News of the changes came in a posting on the company blog by Ben Galbraith, VP, global products, Walmart Global eCommerce.

The new design of the site was created to work on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers.

"We started our new design from the baseline of small tablets, optimizing it for that form factor, and then carefully considered how each area of the site could adapt itself to take advantage of larger screens with different input mechanisms (i.e., fingers versus mice) when available," wrote Mr. Galbraith, who said details on changes for smartphones would come at a later date.

The site is also looking to personalize the shopping experience for individual customers based on their buying and browsing history on Walmart.com and in Walmart-owned stores.

"Recommendations may be based on a customer's past searches or purchases on the site, but we can also suggest items that other customers typically buy along with the item a customer is shopping," wrote Mr. Galbraith. "We're able to deliver much more relevant suggestions because we are now able to draw from the massive trove of data from both online and store purchases."

Finding a way to better connect the online and offline worlds is another goal of the site redesign. A new "My Local Store" feature enables shoppers to see information about nearby locations including current price rollbacks and coupons.

Walmart.com is also looking to increase its visual presentation with improved product photos and videos. Walmart.com produced a video for a wheeled storage trunk as part of its back-to-college effort. It stars Laura, a member of its content team, who explains in a casually professional manner how customers can use the locker as both a storage device and piece of furniture, if needed.

While not going into detail in the post, Mr. Galbraith also said the checkout process would be improved to "become a simple, easy-to-use three-step flow that fits on a single page from start to finish."

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:WMT] [ NASDAQ:AMZN] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

What do you think is the most promising change being made to Walmart.com? Will the Walmart.com site redesign be more effective in attracting new shoppers to the site or getting current shoppers to spend more?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Will the Walmart.com site redesign be more effective in attracting new shoppers to the site or getting current shoppers to spend more?

Comments:

Walmart has something Amazon doesn't; over 4,500 stores that can serve as distribution points. But, Walmart still has the huge obstacle of earning consumer trust related to reliability and value beyond just low price on commodities. Given Walmart's huge investment in store real estate, they must crack the code on BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In Store) for both core customers and new shoppers.

The most promising changes are site integration and consistency across all form factors: computer, tablet and smartphone. Walmart's core customers are more likely to have a smartphone than any other device, so optimization for mobility is a key.

Perhaps the most promising changes are invisible and behind the scenes. Walmart has finally gotten serious about investing in the critical talent needed for online and omni-channel. The recent acquisition of Luvocracy by Walmart labs is ample evidence that Walmart is investing in strategy for the long haul.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

Walmart.com is doing everything right: Omni-channel, device optimization, recommendations, videos and simplified checkout. Other retailers should learn from this example.

Many consumers, particularly those in big cities, do not have easy access to Walmart but would love to partake in Walmart's low prices. Walmart.com is the answer.

While Walmart's brick-and-mortar sales are down, Walmart.com's sales are up. I look for online to continue to contribute positively to Walmart's bottom line.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

Optimizing the view and function for different devices is a huge plus. Eliminating the need to travel around a page to try to find all the relevant information is a major factor in making it easy for people with mobile devices to use the site. That may be a factor in getting shoppers to spend more. WOM will be a major factor in getting more people to use the site on mobile devices.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Amazon is the online benchmark, so no surprise that Walmart is taking a page from their playbook. That being said, if Walmart is just getting around to optimizing its site design to work on the various form factors (e.g., smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers), that would seem to be a recognition late in coming. Same goes for offering recommendations, although if they have developed their own capability rather than using a third-party tool that does and will continue to take time.

For all other retailers, Walmart's embrace of e-commerce should be heeded.

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Bill Davis, Director, MB&G Consulting

Walmart understands what so many "experts" don't—it's the customer, stupid!

By continuing to evolve ways of reaching out to the customers, on terms they are comfortable with, Walmart is taking the action to the shopper.

Call it omni-channel, multi-channel or whatever you want to call it, but the fact remains; access is one of the core attributes of 21st century retailing.

So, the most promising change is that Walmart is continuing to experiment and evolve. As far as the second question goes, the answer is "YES"—the site change will increase business in both existing and new customers.

What the percentage is, or which one is greater doesn't matter as long as Walmart's bond with its shoppers continues to strengthen.

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

Walmart has certainly acquired the people who can bring all this to pass. What remains to be seen, IMHO, is how well they can deliver. It takes more that great tech talent to turn a ship.

Lee Kent, Let's meet share and succeed in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

Walmart is ahead of the bricks-to-clicks pack, pure and simple, and it isn't resting on its digital laurels. That said, its biggest opportunity is driving broader awareness of its endless-aisle offerings, including the ginormous number of marketplace SKUs that it features from third-party sellers. Walmart is the only bricks-based retailer that is seriously benchmarking against Amazon rather than just talking about the threat. That is making all the difference.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

With this latest online overhaul, Walmart is likely to score gains first from shoppers who already know and patronize Walmart.com. New shoppers might need some convincing.

But there is where Walmart's brick-and-mortar foundation may prove to be an advantage. It can easily justify using both in-store promotion and national advertising to build awareness for the new Walmart.com. With 245 million store visits per week, that's a lot of exposure that Amazon can't match.

Improved site functionality will help raise the conversion rate, but only the right merchandise will keep customers returning. Walmart drives hard on price; I'm waiting for a Walmart.com campaign around the theme, "Yes, We Have It!"

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Walmart's re-platforming is a massive and costly undertaking—roughly $2.5 billion in 2014 alone, per the latest annual report.

There are two key reasons I see it as key:

  1. Walmart is prioritizing e-commerce and omni-channel globally, and this re-platforming will enable much more coordinated and cost-effective execution internationally while preserving "freedom within a framework."
  2. It is difficult to sustain a competitive advantage using borrowed capabilities. Walmart understands that it needs proprietary technology and is minimizing its dependence on third parties.

I remain intrigued by a few of the statements Walmart has made publicly about its intentions to increase its selection by orders of magnitude (10-to-15 times). Walmart can compete with Amazon on price and certainly on convenience, and these latest investments narrow the competitive gap in site experience.

But growing selection massively requires either massive expansion of warehouse and distribution capacity, the creation of a more open marketplace or both.

I wonder if Walmart will also follow Amazon's strategy of leveraging infrastructure it built for its own ends by leasing it to complementary market segments.

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Keith Anderson, VP, Strategy & Insight, Profitero

I have used Walmart.com to order online and pick up in store for a long time, so it can only get better. Same for their website; if it wasn't that great when I used it (serviceable, but with glitches in merchandise it showed versus what was available) yet it made considerable profit, think about how that will increase with an upgrade to more appealing site that should please and win both old and new customers.

Kudos to Walmart for the innovation—and, no, I don't think it's all late to the party. Walmart and Nordstrom are just two examples of brick and mortar retailers maximizing omnichannel services. And webrooming and store pickup aren't things that Amazon has "mastered," so right on!

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

E-commerce is still a growing industry in terms of new customers engaging the system(s). the growth numbers mentioned in this discussion are surpassing overall market increases when adjusted for average ticket sizes. This is a good indicator that Walmart is gaining in market share as well as keeping pace with the USA industry levels. There is nothing better than that for the investment and ROI lines.

As for the brick and mortar side of the executive committee table, the recent top gun change will focus on that with "the street" keeping him honest for the sake of readership/audience numbers. I suspect that the largest potential off shore markets are still remaining elusive. Long-term viability will depend on global successes for anyone wishing to stand with the giants. The off shore development of brick and mortar stores and more importantly, the distribution part of the Walmart equation will grow better with information from a successful e-commerce presence. In short, many things need to be addressed better to move into the global economy as a leader.

'gjarnoldjr'

Interesting to see that in the poll most agree that these changes will basically maintain status quo. Walmart is getting the right infrastructure in place, but as long as they play by Amazon's rules, the best they can hope for is a distant second.

Winning happens in navigation and at the point of conversion. There has been no real innovation in that experience since the dawn of eCommerce. The retailer who can crack that open will be the one Amazon will fear.

Daniel Silverman, Vice President, Business Consulting Services, Clavis Insight

People who shop at Walmart aren't looking for high-end customer service. They are looking for selection and price. Moving that model from in-store to online is a natural move. They have done it, and have had success. As they refine and improve the online experience, it can only help increasing traffic and sales.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

The key for me is to highlight the local store. The "My Local Store" feature mentioned in the lead should help to attract shoppers and effectively moves coupons and specials to the digital channel. Assuming the Walmart shopper is Smartphone-toting as many people are, this should have impact.

From a branding perspective, I think it's a stretch for now to think that shoppers will browse "aspirationally" for items on Walmart.com as they might on Amazon. The visual presentation improvements mentioned may represent small steps towards becoming more of a shopping destination.

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Bill Hanifin, Managing Director, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

Walmart might be late getting to this. But they have certainly done enough in a short time to catch up. I don't know if they can or will be a competitor to Amazon, but the world is going to know they are a player.

The main issue Walmart might have is their customer base and if this base/core is internet savvy enough to take advantage of it.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

People that think this is a "catch-up" move on Walmart's part are not paying attention. Walmart was already one of the top 3 e-commerce sites in the US, and grew faster than Amazon last year. Their web experience was already well above the mean of top sites. They sold $10B online last year.

What Walmart is doing now is moving from simply following common conventions, to creating them. Walmart was formerly a good execution of a lot of off-the-shelf technologies; what we are seeing now is they are inventing their own technologies platforms to give themselves a true competitive advantage over the rest of brick and mortar retailers.

Not only did Walmart build their own e-commerce platform (moving off Oracle ATG), they created their own framework to write it in: LazoJS is a client-server web framework (built on Node.js). That's a much newer, more agile framework than any of the big commercial platforms have.

Last year when Walmart moved off of the Oracle Endeca search engine to their own in-house search, there conversion improved by 20%!

They already had a bunch of unique experiences (Buy Online Pay With Cash, In-Store Mode for Mobile, Savings Catcher, Trending, etc...). They already had an experience optimized for common devices, but they are moving to a touch-first UI paradigm. They already have personalized recommendations,but are moving to true personalized experiences.

I really admire the @WalmartLabs team. I'd have bet against Walmart being able to build a world class e-commerce team (due to innovators dilemma) and I'd have certainly bet against Walmart being able to create a culture that could attract and retain top Bay Area engineering talent, but on both scores they have proved me wrong.

Almost every retailer feels like they are losing ground to Amazon, but in a world where all purchases will soon be digitally influenced most brick and mortar retailers are losing ground to Walmart as well.

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Jason Goldberg, VP Commerce Strategy, Razorfish

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