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Endless aisles available for digital customers

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SAN BRUNO, Calif. — The mission of Walmart’s global e-commerce business, based here in Silicon Valley, is to develop world-class e-commerce capabilities and then integrate them with the company’s formidable strengths in brick-and-mortar retailing, in order to meet consumers’ growing demand for a seamless omnichannel shopping experience.

The mission of Walmart’s global e-commerce business, based here in Silicon Valley, is to develop world-class e-commerce capabilities and then integrate them with the company’s formidable strengths in brick-and-mortar retailing, in order to meet consumers’ growing demand for a seamless omnichannel shopping experience.

Walmart’s shoppers are already using, mobile devices while they are in its stores and to access its website.

"More than 75% of our store customers have smartphones," says Michael Bender, Walmart executive vice president and chief operating officer for global e-commerce. "And 80% of our store customers under age 35 have smartphones.

"And what’s interesting is the way in which they’re using them, which is not just to make phone calls. Half of the Walmart smartphone users have used their devices in our stores to assist them in their shopping decisions. They’re conducting research, comparing prices and looking at product reviews as they decide what to buy. And as they browse and search on the Web, they’re also looking up the location of the item in the store."

Bender notes that consumers are increasingly using their smartphones "literally like a remote control for their lives." To serve these customers better, he says, Walmart has increased the capabilities of its mobile apps. For example, the retailer has geo-fenced every one of its U.S. stores, allowing smartphone-wielding shoppers to receive information about the store and its pricing, and see local ads specific to the store they’re in. There’s also a "search my store" capability that allows consumers to locate products in the store quickly.

"We also have what we call ‘endless aisles,’ which allows customers to purchase products they want even if they’re not available in the store," Bender says. "It’s a way of making that connection between the physical store, which only can carry a certain number of SKUs, and our online store, which can offer millions of SKUs."

One example of an area where Walmart’s "endless aisles" capability is particularly useful is in large exercise equipment, where the display in the sporting goods department may include a only few machines, such as treadmills or stationary bicycles. The display units allow shoppers to see and touch the equipment and get a better sense of their size and how they function.

Bender notes that with that consumer need in mind, Walmart has changed the way it displays exercise equipment in many of its stores. Instead of elevated displays, the machines have been brought down to the sales floor so consumers can more easily interact with them.

"And then if they don’t like that particular model, they can go online and access the broader assortment," Bender says. "What we see with a lot of our customers is that there’s a lot of cross-shopping between channels. The purchase decision may start online and end up in the store, or it may start in the store and end up online.

"Our simple theory is, we just want to be available for customers, however and whenever they would like to shop. And the combination of our physical assets and the digital capabilities that we’ve built allow us to offer that."


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