Business

3 Predictions for the Future of Retail – from the CEO of Walmart

What will shopping be like in 10 years? No one knows all the details (that’s exciting!), but one thing is for sure: it will be very different than it is today.

Editor’s Note: This piece by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was originally published Jan. 6, 2017 on the World Economic Forum’s website.

History is clear about that. In the mid-19th century, most people in the U.S. were shopping at small markets. They would tell the manager what they wanted, and then wait for the item to be retrieved from the back or from the supplier. After that came the urban department store, supermarkets, then strip malls and discount stores.

Today, the pace of change is rapid. Ten years ago most customers were reading about the original iPhone, and wondering whether it would be useful. Now they expect to order something on their mobiles, have it delivered or pick it up in store – often on the same day, in a few hours, or even in a few minutes.

It’s up to retailers to adapt to these changes – and in some areas even lead the way – or they’ll fall behind and disappear.

Here’s what customers can expect their shopping experiences to be like 10 years from now:

1. Customer empowerment and even greater influence
Customer satisfaction has always been the number one goal for retailers, and in the future, customers will be more empowered than ever to drive the change they want, as they get more control over their shopping experience.

Technology – the internet, mobile and analytics – is being used to do anything and everything a customer doesn’t want to. Customers want to explore. But they need to have easy access to items they choose to use all the time. The historic trade-off between price and service has been altered by technology and customers expect to save time and enjoy the experience while saving money. They’ll fulfill their everyday needs – items like laundry detergent, paper, light bulbs, grocery staples and shampoo – in the easiest way possible through a combination of stores, e-commerce, pick-up, delivery and supported by artificial intelligence. Customer desires – think emerging fashion, fresh produce, and items they’ve never seen before – will still be fun to explore in stores as well as with technology (think virtual reality).

Retailers that provide a truly unique, enjoyable experience and prepare their associates to provide excellent service will have the advantage. At Walmart we already see the value customers place on personalization and convenience, through our success with grocery pick-up and delivery in several markets around the world.

With the growth of the internet of things, customers will enjoy an increasingly connected or “smart” shopping experience through a network of connections linking the physical and digital worlds into an ecosystem of devices, including vehicles, stores and software. The internet of things, drones, delivery robots, 3D-printing and self-driving cars will allow retailers to further automate and optimize supply chains too. Both sides of the equation – demand and supply – will change dramatically.

In addition, customers will continue to demand transparency around pricing and the supply chain. They’ll have less time to research the products they buy – but they’ll care even more about how they are sourced. They’ll choose to shop with retailers who provide that transparency so they can feel good about the items they purchase. This will require retailers to work with manufacturers to source items responsibly and sustainably. Retailers who do this and share the information will further earn customers’ trust.

2. I’ve seen what you have and I want it, too
Customers all over the world now know, and can see, what people in other countries have, and they want access to it all. And they want it now. Chinese customers want access to Louis Vuitton bags from France and milk from Australia. Not long ago on a visit to Nigeria and Ghana, I asked one of our local store managers what his one wish would be. His answer: “I want you to put a Walmart Supercenter like the ones you have in the US right here and let me run it. My customers and my family have seen what you have and we want it, too. We want those items at those prices.”

As Tom Friedman taught us, the world got flat and now it’s moving fast. The world needs inclusive growth provided in a sustainable manner. People are demanding it.

3. Shared value
With all these changes, retailers will only survive if their business creates shared value that benefits shareholders and society. Social and environmental sustainability will be engineered into our systems, and that will strengthen the communities in which we operate, which will in turn appeal to customers. These changes, however, will require new levels of cooperation and collaboration between retailers and NGOs, governments and educational institutions. Basically, we’ll design retail and other businesses so that all stakeholders (as many as possible) benefit: customers, associates/employees, shareholders, the communities we serve and those in the supply chain.

At Walmart, we’ve already found that investments in training, education and wages for our associates have resulted in higher customer satisfaction. Our customers want our associates to have a great life and they want to see that reflected in their attitudes and the service they provide.

When it comes to environmental sustainability, retailers and policy-makers face new challenges with the increase in packaging waste and emissions that comes with the growth of e-commerce. Shipping packages one at a time is not only wasteful and environmentally unsustainable, it isn’t cost-effective. The demand for convenience will force retailers to come up with new ways to ship items – in batches vs. one at a time – that are better for business and the environment.

While all these changes pose big challenges for retailers, they also represent unprecedented opportunities to innovate on behalf of customers and create new job opportunities for retail associates. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in retail, to be at the forefront of change and part of an industry that has the potential to provide a better life for millions around the world.

This piece draws on a new report, Shaping the Future of Retail for Consumer Industries, which can be read here.

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Opportunity

A Mom Finds Balance, From a Supercenter to the Sidelines

It was a Saturday in early September last year. Martha Brown was among the enormous crowd of college football fans at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, standing and cheering wildly. The turnover that had just taken place was a huge play for Auburn. But for Martha, it was personal. Her son, Derrick, had made the fumble recovery in his very first game with the Auburn Tigers.

For this Walmart department manager and mother of three, it was a heartwarming validation of the countless hours she had put in supporting and guiding her son through years of practices, games and recruitment trips.

Twelve years ago, while working as a cashier in Buford, Georgia, Martha made a promise to her kids: She would never miss a game. That meant working overnight shifts and odd hours. “Sometimes, on Friday or Saturday nights, I came straight to work after a game,” she said. But through it all, Martha says her supervisors made every effort to accommodate her commitment to her children.

In fact, her store manager and fellow associates went even further, donating sports drinks and water to Derrick’s team and sponsoring picnics as a way to give back to the community.

Martha’s not working overnights anymore. Her 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift gives her the ability to spend time with her daughter and younger son, guiding them through afterschool activities. But that doesn’t mean Martha has stopped taking advantage of flexible scheduling. She’s still able to build her work shifts in such a way that she can make the long drive to Auburn – and away games all over the South – during the football season.

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Business

Northern Lights: Meet the Warm-Hearted Associates of Alaska

It takes a special team to stay happy in one of the coldest, darkest places in the country.

Even at temperatures of -30 F, associates in Alaska keep customers — and each other — smiling by taking outstanding customer service to the extreme.

Braving the Elements
At -30 F, common tasks like unloading trucks become an arctic adventure. Five minutes into the job, icicles are already forming on the flushed faces of these associates.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an assistant manager or a sales associate,” said department manager for fabrics, crafts, and stationery, Chelsea Campbell. “We all share the responsibility of getting the job done for our customers.”

Service for Those Who Serve
This February marked 30 years of service for Command Sgt. Maj. Vento Collins, customer host at Store 2722 in Fairbanks, who started at the store in September as part of his transition away from active duty. The area’s strong military presence means that many families in Fairbanks are from other places.

“They’re not used to the conditions up here,” Vento said. “So they count on us to help them prepare for life in Alaska’s interior. We’re here for them, day and night.”

Ever-ready
Automotive associate Jessie Smith helps customer Cynthia King with 150 pounds of dog food for her three large-breed dogs.

“These associates are always ready to help,” Cynthia said. “That’s why I shop here.”


“I’ve lived in Fairbanks for 75 years,” said Pat Johnson, customer (shown left), with Dominique Green, department manager, furniture. “The associates here are so helpful.”


Alaska Bush Program
Across the state, many people – especially native populations – live in areas that can't be reached by road or ferry. Many don’t have access to the internet, and even for those who do, typical online shipping services wouldn’t make it to their homes.

That’s where the Bush Program comes in, serving customers who need everyday products — or even help with Christmas shopping — in these remote areas. Store 2722 in Fairbanks, Store 2071 in Anchorage, and Store 2710 in Ketchikan all have Bush programs.

“We serve the entire state,” says Trish Stipe, Bush department sales associate in Fairbanks. “The farthest customer would probably be about 600 miles from Fairbanks on the tiny island of Little Diomede.”

The Bush team in Fairbanks can take orders by phone, fax or email. Associates pick the requested items from the floor, ring them up, package them and process them through postage. They then divide the packages into zones by ZIP code, put them on a pallet, and wrap the pallet. The U.S. Postal Service delivers the pallets by plane or boat. (Except to places like Little Diomede Island, where planes don’t go — a helicopter or boat-plane has to deliver those packages.)

“Mostly, we are shipping nonperishable items,” Trish said. “Many of the people in these areas survive by hunting, fishing, and gathering berries.”

The team takes about 10 to 20 orders by phone each day. Another 10 or so Bush customers self-shop—that is, they make their own way to the store to shop and then have the Bush team ship their items back to their homes. Store 2710 in Ketchikan offers self-shop, takes phone orders, and typically serves customers closer to its specific region of the state. Store 2071 in Anchorage processes self-shop orders only and tends to serve the whole state, like the Fairbanks store does.

The Bush team’s favorite part of the program?

“We get to shop for customers,” Trish said. “One customer calls every December and asks us to Christmas shop for his family. He tells us the ages of his children, gives us a budget, and we take care of the rest. We’ll even stuff stockings!”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.

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Innovation

Movie Magic: Behind Vudu’s New Mobile Feature

Harry Potter flying on his broomstick during a Quidditch match. Julia Roberts fleeing the altar(s) in Runaway Bride. The Goonies going on a hunt for a pirate’s treasure.

When we think of these moments, we think about the stories, not necessarily how we were able to watch them.

I work at Vudu, which was built around the idea of giving customers easy access to their favorite television shows and movies. This was our core promise nearly a decade ago and remains our focus today.

Because we’re part of Walmart, the largest seller of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, we have a unique opportunity to help customers get even more out of their physical collections.

Today we announced that, beginning at 12:00 p.m. EDT, customers will be able to convert DVDs and Blu-rays into digital files through a simple scan with their phones.

This isn’t new for us. In fact, we first launched our Disc-to-Digital service five years ago to give movie lovers the ability to unlock digital files from their DVDs and Blu-rays. Since then, we’ve steadily evolved that service – and even added InstaWatch for new movies – to give customers simple and easy ways to get more from their physical discs while they also build their digital libraries.

Check out the journey we’ve taken over the last five years to help customers give their physical DVD and Blu-ray collections a second life as digital movies.

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Opportunity

Introducing the All-New WalmartCareers.com

With more than 4,600 locations in the U.S. – and online shopping, too – odds are most of us have connected with Walmart at some point in the last year.

But helping our customers check off grocery lists and wish lists wouldn’t be possible without one important thing: our people.

Delivering on this expectation every day requires a lot of support not just on the front lines at our stores, but also behind the scenes at our fulfillment and distribution centers and corporate offices. Walmart is a place where anyone can build a career, and it’s my role to ensure job seekers know about the opportunities that exist.

One way we’re doing that is through the recently refreshed WalmartCareers.com. But what else is there to know about working for Walmart? Here’s a short list.

1. Expect the unexpected.
Careers at Walmart are as individual as the people who work here. We employ a wide range of roles from store managers and software engineers to pharmacists and pilots.

Our CEO Doug McMillon is well known for working his way up from unloading boxes in a warehouse to where he is today, and he’s just one of many associates who found their dream job among the many opportunities here at Walmart.

2. Counting on success.
Employing more than 2 million associates worldwide – 1.5 million in the U.S. alone – is a huge responsibility. However, the size of our workforce is just one number worth knowing. Here are several other stats that make us proud:

  • More than 75% of our store management teams started as hourly associates.
  • We promoted 200,000 U.S. associates last year to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay, and more than 9,000 hourly associates were promoted to salaried managers.
  • More than 225,000 associates will graduate from our Academies training program by the end of 2017 – emerging prepared to better serve customers, lead teams and take the next step in their careers.

3. Digital first.
With more than 1.6 million visitors each month, WalmartCareers.com is a first impression for many candidates – and we want it to be a great one. The site was recently redesigned to:

  • Invite visitors to experience our culture.

From day-in-the-life videos to real images of our offices and associates, the site opens our doors and invites visitors to experience Walmart like never before.

  • Make it easy for applicants to find their perfect fit.

With so many opportunities available, finding the perfect role can be challenging. We used this as inspiration for the newly designed site navigation, department pages and job search.

  • Showcase our commitment to innovative digital experiences.

We love the unexpected (and the delightful!), and the refreshed careers site is one way we are showcasing our efforts to create great, immersive experiences for our candidates.

4. The future’s so bright.
Through our physical locations and digital capabilities, we’re committed to creating an easy and time-saving shopping experience for our customers. But whether it’s online grocery pickup or changing our in-store setup, we can’t make that happen without bright people to drive innovation and bring ideas to life.

Technology will continue to change the world around us, and associates at all levels are helping us change with it. As I’ve heard our CEO say, “Bring it on.”

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