Walmart uses brutal self-assessment in omnichannel turnaround strategy

Photo: Walmart
Mar 24, 2021

They say the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem, and according to Walmart, they’ve had a big one. “We fail our customers today,” reads the first bullet in a slide from their planning deck for an internal project codenamed Project Glass, which has been in development since last March.

Those customers, Walmart acknowledges, have been flocking to To reclaim customers they’re losing, the company aims to create a “simple, easy-to-use app and website [to] give customers the ability to search, shop, and check out with any item no matter where it lives in the Walmart ecosystem,” said a Walmart spokesperson, according to Insider.

The new experience promises fast and free delivery, unattended delivery options, elimination of basket minimums (assumed to meet free shipping requirements), single-click orders and live-tracking order status through delivery. If that sounds like table stakes for retail omnichannel experiences, that’s because it is. Many of these features have been available and popularized on Amazon for quite some time.

But what’s most refreshing, as I covered in a post this week, is how Walmart’s brutal self-own poises them to battle Amazon. In their own words, Walmart details their genuine market failings rather than using a SWOT analysis. The deck, first shared by Insider, contains these nuggets:

“We turn away customers who want to shop with us.”

“We have a lot of friction in our experience.”

“We do not have a relationship with our customers.”

That may have been painful for executives to swallow, but it was the necessary provocation to improve customer experience and sales. Specifically, Walmart’s e-commerce business is not yet profitable, and sales growth is expected to slow this year. Walmart hopes to turn that around with Project Glass.

Going beyond the basics, Walmart recognizes the need for artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver additional value to customers. Project Glass notes the need for personalized search, predictive reorders for maintenance items, proactive cart reminders and customized basket building with a personalized user front-end (UX).

Today, Project Glass is in its final phase and exists in beta, being used by thousands of employees while it readies for launch. Whether Project Glass will help pivot customers away from Amazon remains to be seen. But this much is true: every corporate pitch deck should begin with brutal honesty about genuine market failings to pave the way for positive disruption.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:  Should more retailers follow Walmart’s brutal self-assessment strategy? Do you think Walmart’s Project Glass will be successful in wooing customers back from Amazon, and why?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Looking at this issue hard means that they care — and since so many follow their lead, hopefully this sparks a positive trend."
"Walmart has the money and the smarts needed to beat Amazon – but it is important to understand the problem from an outside-in perspective putting customers at the center."
"Bravo to WMT for assessing their position in the war against Amazon, and developing a strategy, actions and metrics to improve performance."

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26 Comments on "Walmart uses brutal self-assessment in omnichannel turnaround strategy"

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Gary Sankary

I applaud Walmart for taking this step and for being brutally honest. The assessment certainly resonates with my experience. Awareness is the first step to solving any problem. Walmart has their work cut out for them given Amazon’s market share, but every turnaround starts with a first step and from where I sit, this is a great one.

DeAnn Campbell

Walmart has been surprisingly open to experimentation and discovery for the past 10 years, even giving their Store No. 8 lab radical freedom to explore new tech well ahead of the industry curve. — Only by enabling a deep level of self-examination can any business make the foundational changes needed to shift to a new way of doing business.

Walmart has an opportunity to not only compete with Amazon, but to best them. By exposing themselves to the full scope of what their customers are thinking, feeling and doing, they can make efficient, surgical changes to their business to not only develop a better e-commerce platform, but to integrate it into their extensive store network — something Amazon has yet to achieve.

Lee Peterson

Impressive. Most retailers will do things like this behind closed doors then use a massive PR campaign to say “everything’s great!” (department stores, I’m talking to you) when in reality, it’s not. And every time you say it’s all OK but it’s not, you lose trust from employees and customers, who all know better. This type of transparency is much needed in this day and age — it gives you faith that they’re going to improve.

Keith Anderson

Candor and transparency are important, and this kind of “brutal” self-assessment can drive change if it’s paired with a plan. But it’s equally important to be thoughtful about how and when this type of message is communicated, or it can backfire and be demotivating.

Jeff Weidauer

What some call brutal self-assessment I call acknowledging reality. Companies that are not willing to look at their current situation in the cold light of day are only prolonging the problems that exist.

Cathy Hotka

“You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge,” says Dr. Phil, and that’s certainly the case here. Amazon did create a friction-free experience that’s now expected. (An Amazon-ordered mirror arrived broken, and all I had to do was turn it in at Whole Foods three blocks away.) It’s refreshing to see Walmart tackling their future head on. Other retailers should watch and learn.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Laura Davis-Taylor
Founder, Branded Ground
6 months 1 day ago

I find this post extraordinarily encouraging. 25 years in retail, most of it ultimately focused on CX, and I can’t tell you how often I’ve held up Walmart as the poster child of great price value, bipolar customer experience. This is so often the case when a retailer is extremely profitable — if they’re printing money, why should they care if their customers are happy with them? Again, looking at this issue hard means that they care — and since so many follow their lead, hopefully this sparks a positive trend.

Oliver Guy

It is certainly a radical approach. Amazon are famed for writing press releases before creating a new offering – in some ways this is similar in that it creates a very high standard to reach.
Glass suggests a need for transparency and that is what customers are seeking – customers’ expectations are rising and it seems Walmart are accepting this as reality.

Gene Detroyer

As David says, “the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem.” Too few retailers, too few companies, and too few people recognize that.

On the retail side particularly, we have seen retailers try to fix their problems with “let’s have a promotion” or some “silver bullet” that will turn things around.

Imagine what a brutal self assessment would look like for Sears, J.C. Penney or Macy’s.

Should more retailers follow the brutal self-assessment strategy? Absolutely. For Walmart will it bring customers back that morphed to Amazon? Maybe not, Amazon’s convenience is very sticky. Will it help them prevent customers from going to Amazon? Certainly.

Andrew Blatherwick

You have to be big enough to ask the hard questions, humble enough to listen to the output and smart enough to come up with the answers. Walmart has been very open about their failings, which in itself is clever because they are saying to their lapsed customers “we are changing, we are listening and we are improving,” but they are also intent on putting things right. Will they come up with the answers? Only time will tell, but they have succeeded in the first two parts of the equation.

Lisa Goller

Yes, honest reflection is vital to stay competitive. Walmart’s brutal self-assessment shows maturity and humility in leadership.

As the pandemic constrained its 11,000 stores worldwide, Walmart urgently needed new ways to catch up to consumers’ omnichannel expectations. Bolder moves like partnering with Shopify and TikTok and divesting underperforming global stores helped Walmart improve its competitive positioning.

Project Glass is already helping Walmart strengthen its e-commerce service and connect with younger consumers to stay relevant. Yet Amazon has a loyalty edge, as the tech giant’s Day 1 philosophy is all about delighting consumers with continuous, self-aware kaizen.

Warren Thayer

I see few specifics of how Walmart would do much more than match the offering of Amazon. Doing that alone will cost them plenty at a time when Wall Street is getting a tad bearish on them. And most vendors I know are angrier than ever about Walmart’s trade relations strategies, fines and bullying tactics. These factors will also be headwinds. I, like others here, also see this as more a recognition of reality by Walmart rather than anything groundbreaking. Sorry, I’ve been a fan of Walmart for many years, as most of you know, but I’d need more information to believe that tough times are not ahead.

Steve Dennis

Absolutely. Brands, organizations and individuals alike suffer when they deny reality and do not push an agenda of complete awareness, radical acceptance and bold action. The retail world has been moving strongly toward one where the customer is the channel for nearly 20 years, demanding a customer experience approach that is hybrid and harmonized. Walmart has made some great strides, but has far more to do. As I say in my book, we have to start where we are, break through our delusion and move boldly ahead on our journey to remarkable.

Jeff Sward

As I was reading the article I kept thinking that there was a word missing. Honest or honesty. And there it is in the last sentence. Honest self assessment has to be one of the hardest things in life, personal or professional. Too often it’s an oxymoron. It’s like a scene out of the movie “Moneyball”. Different coaches offer their view on “the problem.” And finally the general manager says, “NO — the problem is…” So hats off to Walmart. They continue to offer an ongoing master class in retail reinvention.

Venky Ramesh

Walmart has the money and the smarts needed to beat Amazon – but it is important to understand the problem from an outside-in perspective putting customers at the center. This is a great start, but it should have happened years ago. I like the name Project Glass. It is an apt name for this initiative. It not only connotes transparency but creates an association with their former CEO David Glass, who recently passed away. Under Glass’s leadership, Walmart grew from 123 stores to over 4,000 stores.

Shep Hyken

Walmart has been in a battle with Amazon for years. I think they recognized their online channel issue long before going public with their admission. Not that they are late. Perhaps it just took a little longer to realize they aren’t where they want to be. But that was yesterday. Today is another day, and they are ready to move forward. They have a built in customer base. Walmart’s goal should be to capture their customers’ in-store and online shopping habits.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
6 months 1 day ago

Brutal, honest self-assessment is a successful strategy to drive operational improvements for any company. Many companies focus on celebrating their successes and ignoring their weaknesses, which only makes the weaknesses worse. If Walmart is successful in delivering an Amazon-like experience, they still have the challenge of wooing customers back and attracting loyal Amazon customers to shop the Walmart Marketplace. Many consumers instinctively, shop Amazon first whether it is on their computer or phone as a matter of habit and convenience. Breaking this habit is not easy.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Walmart desires kudos for its public recognition of a major issue. However, all companies need to keep in touch with their customers to make sure that they hear what they don’t want to hear. Remember, the alternative to receiving direct customer criticism is to encourage customers to “grumble.” Grumbling is telling everyone who will listen that an organization is failing — thereby negatively affecting word of mouth or social media communications.

Time will tell how successful Walmart will be vis a vis Amazon. The key will be the introduction of any new positive points of difference that customers perceive, between the new Walmart system and Amazon. If it’s merely table stakes, expect little in the way of Amazon defections.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Unless issues are brought forward with honesty, they are impossible to address. Bravo to WMT for assessing their position in the war against Amazon, and developing a strategy, actions and metrics to improve performance.

Ananda Chakravarty

Totally love this move on Walmart’s part and the timing couldn’t be better. Why? Because the loyalty of customers to their shopping choices has been substantially disrupted and hence re-establishing these connections (and in some cases as per the Walmart self assessment, establishing them in the first place) will be paramount. This project has the promise of success — with strings attached of course.

The Amazon angle is a bit different, and that needs finesse — and data clarity to establish that these customers are lost and need wooing.

I would still surmise that shoppers continue to buy products from multiple vendors and the first step for Walmart would be a clear assessment of status, perhaps even segmenting the propensity to shop again at Walmart for customers who have shopped elsewhere. This is far from brutal. This is honest business.

Craig Sundstrom

No doubt Walmart’s e-commerce efforts weren’t perfect, so there are likely some valid criticisms. But I see some four-letter words in there: “fast” and “free.” I’m not going to tell them not to do it, but there are reasons for not offering these things. But if the goal is simply to copy Amazon, well then … good luck.

Liza Amlani

Walmart is leading the way in self-assessment strategies, by evolving and improving their internal AND external experiences. I hope they inspire other retailers to follow suit.

Looking at ways of how to get closer to their customer, how they can engage new customers, and improve the customer experience is what Amazon is lacking. The fact is that NO experience IS the Amazon experience. This is a great step forward for Walmart.

James Tenser

“Brutal self-assessment” should be the continuing norm for any and every retail organization that plans to remain viable and competitive. Making a public declaration about it is optional and risky, as it raises expectations and implies that when the project is over all will be well.

Walmart has the advantage of enormous momentum and capital assets which may tend to obscure the consequences of mediocre omnichannel performance. The best Project Glass attribute may be its commitment to transparency. (I assume the pun is intended.)

Xavier Lederer

“What got you here won’t get you there:” our past successes are often the biggest roadblocks to our future growth, because they blind us. It is great to see such a large company admit that course-correction is needed. The true source of humility and vulnerability is at the individual level though (and it is often painful), not at the company level. If Walmart’s key leaders are genuinely admitting their flaws individually and as a leadership team, miracles can happen.

Mohamed Amer

Unless you are willing to face reality, you cannot begin to tackle the opportunity ahead. Walmart’s actions are another example of their unwillingness to rest on their laurels or give up their leadership. The road ahead is difficult; some would even suggest Walmart’s demise is inevitable. But that would ignore the company’s spirit and zeal. Walmart still has many more lives and is proving it’s no dinosaur.

Scott Benedict

The short answer to the question “should more retailers follow Walmart’s brutal self-assessment strategy?” is a resounding “yes!”

The history of retail is brutally represented with previously successful retailers who thought that because they had been successful in the past, that they never needed to change or refine their approach to a dynamic and ever-changing marketplace. As a former Walmart associate, and a member of the founding team of what became, I’m so very proud of my former company for taking this approach. To not do so would have surely resulted in their demise over time.

Technology has enabled a number of ways to improve the customer experience, and the pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in effective ways to serve a customer in difficult times. Continually challenging yourself to improve your customer experience, and driving for profitable growth in your business, are the only constants in retail.

"Looking at this issue hard means that they care — and since so many follow their lead, hopefully this sparks a positive trend."
"Walmart has the money and the smarts needed to beat Amazon – but it is important to understand the problem from an outside-in perspective putting customers at the center."
"Bravo to WMT for assessing their position in the war against Amazon, and developing a strategy, actions and metrics to improve performance."

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