Is Walmart on track to offer customers a seamless shopping experience?

Discussion
Photo: Walmart
May 19, 2017
George Anderson

Walmart’s management is feeling good about the investments the retailer has made in building its e-commerce business and linking it to its network of stores across the U.S. Yesterday, the chain announced that same-store sales had increased 1.4 percent year-over-year as store traffic improved. The company’s online sales jumped 63 percent, with most of the gains attributed to organic growth at walmart.com.

Speaking on an earnings call yesterday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said walmart.com’s business has benefited from recent initiatives, including free two-day shipping on millions of items sold on the site as well as added savings for customers who order online and pick up in-store.

Mr. McMillon said walmart.com continues to ramp up inventory, now with 50 million items available on the site. He sees the company’s 4,700 stores as a significant asset in growing the online business.

“Our stores are located within 10 miles of nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population, so this is convenient for many of our customers, and also saves them money when they order online and pick it up during their visit to our stores,” he said (via Seeking Alpha).

Walmart’s CEO also addressed the company’s “strategic e-commerce acquisitions” that were made to improve assortment and gain expertise in categories such as apparel and shoes.

“The acquisitions have received a lot of attention, but our plan in e-commerce is not to buy our way to success. The majority of our growth is and will be organic,” said Mr. McMillon. “The acquisitions are helping us speed some things up. So overall, we’re making progress in providing the seamless shopping experience our customer’s desire and we will keep moving along this journey.”

While Walmart’s results are encouraging, the company’s online business remains a distant second to Amazon.com.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told The New York Times. “[Walmart] has underperformed in that area, so what we’re seeing now is really a catch-up to where it needs to be in order to more seriously compete with the likes of Amazon.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your take on Walmart’s earnings report as it relates to its e-commerce initiatives? Do you think Walmart is close to offering a seamless shopping experience to its customers?

Braintrust
"As long as Lore stays with Walmart you can expect a very aggressive -- and pretty successful -- Walmart e-commerce effort."
"The physical stores help to serve customers on the high street faster than even Amazon can and help in offering a whole host of delivery options..."
"This isn’t a leap forward but a correction back to where they would have been had they not neglected e-commerce for so long."

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21 Comments on "Is Walmart on track to offer customers a seamless shopping experience?"

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Ken Cassar
BrainTrust

While Walmart is still a distant second online to Amazon it has a ton of momentum — some from acquisitions, some from organic growth. Brands need a strong online counterweight to Amazon and Walmart has clearly emerged as that counterweight.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Your comment that “Brands need a strong online counterweight to Amazon … ” got me thinking Ken. While you are clearly correct — I wonder how much the brands will wind up liking the “Walmart counterweight”? It may very quickly follow that those brands experience what they did in the brick-and-mortar world and it becomes “the weight of Walmart” again. Only made even heavier this time with the addition of e-commerce.

Stefan Weitz
BrainTrust

Lore is laser-focused on taking Amazon down a few notches. Think of what he’s done in the last 6 months: reduced free shipping minimums, linking in-store purchases to your online account, offering discounts for in-store pickup and he’s soon to announce something that will leverage their 11,000 stores and 6,000 owned and operated trucks. Combine that with the acquisitions they are making to drive new eyeballs to their properties and you begin to see them copying the customer-centric flywheel that has made Amazon so powerful.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

It’s leveraging their massive existing store network combined with the growing eCommerce business that has the potential to really differentiate Walmart. And it’s one of the reasons we’re seeing Amazon experimenting with so many new store formats. Building online is easier than building a national network of physical stores; the real power comes from successfully combining the two.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Walmart is the only brand that is assertively addressing the Amazon threat. DTC is the first thing to nail down. Stores/associates in the stores is a close second. It feels like everyone else, including Target, J.C. Penney, Sears and Macy’s are flailing against the headwinds. When Walmart starts shipping to home from their stores (i.e. fulfillment centers) for same-day delivery then you’ll know they’re really on it.

We shall see, but so far Sam’s folks are on a trend line to still be here in 20 years. I’m not sure the same can be said for the aforementioned retail brands (along with many, many others).

Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Kudos to Walmart. They have stepped up their game on adopting new retail technology and advancing the shopping experience. There are still a few growing pains, but Walmart is pushing the envelope of omnichannel retail. They offer about four different pickup options when most omnichannel retailers are only offering one option.

Smart move to leverage their strength — the 4,700 locations — to tie that in closely with their online growth strategy. Aside from some eye-catching headlines, Amazon still only has a handful of locations.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

Two very important points here. First, any retailer generating same-store sales growth in the current environment is doing very well on the brick-and-mortar front. Second, McMillon did not just buy Jet.com to jump-start Walmart’s e-commerce business — he bought (rented?) Mark Lore. With that move Walmart got someone who a.) knows how Bezos thinks and operates and b.) has a very compelling reason to want to compete successfully with Amazon. As long as Lore stays with Walmart you can expect a very aggressive — and pretty successful — Walmart e-commerce effort.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Unlike most retailers, Wal-mart is not fretting over lackluster performance of their in-store sales. They expect it. They know the landscape.

They are putting effort, money, resources and creativity where they can grow and it seems to be working. I don’t know if they will get to the level of Amazon, but to use the stores as a sustainable competitive advantage is a natural.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Acquisitions — the intellectual property and capabilities they represent take time to absorb and integrate into an efficient process. Walmart is building their answer to Amazon. Walmart has to retrofit and learn quickly whereas Amazon build their machine from the ground up and has had time to tweak and optimize. Walmart has a difficult task but they also have the brick-and-mortar revenue to fund their challenge.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I commend Walmart for their strategy, which is working. A 1.4 percent increase in comp store sales isn’t huge, but for a company their size it is significant. What’s important is that Walmart recognizes that there are shoppers who are mostly interested in shopping online as well as a very high percent of customers who prefer shopping in-store. All retailers need to appeal to both and Walmart is doing an excellent job of that. Allowing customers to pick up online purchases at the store and giving them a discount is very smart because it gets them into the store, which is where impulse buying takes place. Walmart has proven they are not afraid to take some risks and, so far, the results have been positive.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Neil Saunders is right about them getting back to level ground. This isn’t a leap forward but a correction back to where they would have been had they not neglected e-commerce for so long.

I would bet Amazon is watching but is not especially worried yet. They’re still two different market demographics with clear overlap in the middle. Other retailers might have some concern, namely electronics chains and brands like Kohl’s.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Walmart has certainly started to show its colors again. Yes they have a long way to go but they have also picked up a lot of speed. Smart acquisitions and focused management have added to their game. Do they have a seamless shopping experience? They are certainly getting there — and with the right mindset.

Kudos to Walmart and my 2 cents.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

I think Walmart is making great strides and I looked at data from Prosper Insights & Analytics(TM) to add some proof. Walmart shoppers are using the web to research purchases in many categories, but the categories where online research beats in-store research include both big and small electronics, appliances and even entertainment. Categories like apparel and furniture still gather more in-store researchers but home improvement is neck and neck.

This tells me that Walmart is making progress, since many shoppers find it easier than ever on Walmart.com to just hit “Click and Collect.”

That said, the Prosper data shows Target shoppers to be even more likely to be researching purchases online, so Walmart has to keep moving on this!

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
To date, Walmart and Amazon have been able to uniquely define an entire industry. Other companies do matter and although their impact is meaningful, it is more limited in scope. There is no such thing as the “likes of Amazon.” There is only one Amazon, just as there’s only one Walmart. Walmart’s latest earnings report is a validation of their strategy and the acquisitions they’ve made. The impressive online sales results demonstrate the company’s belief in what it will take to succeed in retail’s future landscape. Walmart did not achieve its brick-and-mortar dominance overnight and while building the online business cannot take as long, it also cannot happen overnight. Walmart is learning how to turn its stores into points of differentiation against Amazon. The company understands that the future in retail blends physical and digital as the boundaries melt away and become unrecognizable. Walmart has a huge fixed investment in their stores and it would be foolish and irresponsible for them to not leverage that investment as they frame what represents customer value over the coming decade. Bottom line, history is not on the side of Walmart in being able to stay on top in retailing. However, they have and… Read more »
Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

It seems like Walmart has been doing some great work and the strategy is paying off. Their approach to their stores seems somewhat similar to Argos in the U.K. — at one time you could have said that this huge chain of stores was a burden, but both businesses are using the fact that they have a physical location close to a huge portion of the population to their advantage. The physical stores help to serve customers on the high street faster than even Amazon can and help in offering a whole host of different delivery options — click-and-collect, one-hour delivery, same-day delivery, next-day delivery, etc. I think making this part of their strategy is a savvy move on Walmart’s part.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

While Walmart was a laggard in its online presence, they now realize the critical importance of digital shopping and buying. In the past couple of years, Walmart has been laser-focused on optimizing its product offerings and the user experience online. Through acquisitions like Jet.com and its organic efforts, Walmart’s online growth has been impressive.

Walmart has also done a great job of adding omnichannel services to provide its shoppers flexible fulfillment options, including the use of its stores as distribution centers. I am sure some of the increase in same-store sales was helped by the number of customers that purchased online and picked up in the store. When the customers visit the store to pick up their online purchases they are likely to purchase additional impulse items while they are there.

Omnichannel shopping is the new retail imperative and those retailers that fail to respond will be the ones we read about in the news. Walmart has an opportunity to change the game by supplying same-day delivery to, as they say, the 90 percent of the U.S. population that lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store. These distribution points will be their not-so-secret weapon.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

50 million items online is great, but only if shoppers can find what they want and do not have to spend hours sorting through products. Will this be a seamless shopping experience for products purchased based on individual preference like apparel, shoes, jewelry, furniture, home furnishings, etc.?

This morning I found 2.6 million jewelry items on walmart.com. I guess it depends on what aspect of “seamless” shopping we are commenting on. I am a fan of Walmart. I bet they figure this out.

JJ Kallergis
Guest

The 1.5 percent increase in traffic and 1.4 percent increase in comps was more impressive than their e-commerce growing 63 percent vs. Q1 last year. Honestly they should be expected to organically grow high double digits just as every other retailer in this environment.

According to eMarketer, Amazon’s e-commerce sales are $79.3 billion while Walmart has $13.5 billion and Apple totals $12 billion. So this impressive online growth is on a relatively small base compared to total revenue (<3 percent of annual revenue), signifying they are a huge laggard compared to other retailers. But as we saw from the recent Jet announcement which is offering lower prices to ship to Walmart stores instead of people’s homes, the last mile is not their strength. And so this strategy should help them build their e-commerce presence more profitably and concurrently increase in-store traffic and sales.
Walmart is not there yet in terms of offering its customers the seamless and frictionless shopping experience that retailers all dream of, but they are well on their way and there is significant upside for e-commerce growth propped up by their store network.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

Good to see a retailer that is openly lauding the advantages that physical stores deliver in the omnichannel experience. The store can be a giant asset in distribution, display, service and presence that needs to be fully exploited to change the trajectory of some retailers.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

So far, Walmart’s strategy seems to be paying off, especially as compared to other retailers. A 1.4% sales bump for a retailer the size of Walmart is impressive given how many other brands we see nose diving last quarter. They have finally realized the impact digital can have on in-store sales and are making significant strides in leveraging that with new omnichannel capabilities.

Is it a seamless experience? I wouldn’t say that as you can point to many other sources with easier to use websites, apps, etc. I’d say the importance of what Walmart is doing is in building out the right infrastructure to support future omnichannel initiatives that will look more and more seamless to customers. While other brands may focus on cosmetic improvements, Walmart is keying in on fundamental infrastructure and “plumbing” to ensure they can innovate into the future. Well done, so far — let’s see what they come up with next!

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Every retailer should be exploring what’s next and then what’s after that. Morphing is the new retail mode.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"As long as Lore stays with Walmart you can expect a very aggressive -- and pretty successful -- Walmart e-commerce effort."
"The physical stores help to serve customers on the high street faster than even Amazon can and help in offering a whole host of delivery options..."
"This isn’t a leap forward but a correction back to where they would have been had they not neglected e-commerce for so long."

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