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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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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Business

Millennials Make Waves in This Episode of ‘Outside the Box’

Millennials are making waves.

They are now leaders of industry, business, media and retail. They are shaping the way we get information and goods. They can also be a bit controversial.

But whatever you think of them, you definitely can’t ignore them -- especially millennials as successful as Mic.com co-founder Chris Altchek and Natasha Case, co-founder of ice cream company Coolhaus. In Episode 4 of our podcast, Outside the Box, we sat down with them both to discuss their respective businesses, millennials and the stereotypes of that generation.

Chris, after years of taking wildly different political jobs, realized he was really passionate about finding solutions to people’s problems. So he decided to become a journalist – a job where he could come in without bias and help share the truth. Today, Chris manages a successful news site that reaches 60 million people – a lot of them millennials – a month, in an environment where he says trust in the news is at an all-time low.

Natasha, whose goal was to make architecture cool and accessible, found that mixing food and architecture did the trick. Starting with a broken-down food truck at Coachella, her business Coolhaus now sells architecture-themed ice cream at over 6,000 locations across the U.S.

As with any stereotype, it’s dangerous to lump everyone into one bucket. So what do Chris and Natasha think about the labels some have put upon their generation? Check out the episode to hear for yourself.

Listen to previous episodes and subscribe, and tell us what you think in the comments below.

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