BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, American consumers were increasingly devoting attention to their health and well-being. With more than 4,700 stores. 4,600 pharmacies, 3,400 vision centers and 30 health clinics in five states providing primary and urgent care as well as a range of diagnostics and even dental services, Walmart is well positioned to serve the swiftly evolving health needs of America.
As senior vice president of merchandising, consumables, health and wellness, Silvia Azrai-Kawas plays a key leadership role in ensuring that the nation’s largest retailer provides the health-related products and services its customers need at everyday-low prices with easy access through a variety of fulfillment options.
“We know we have a role to play in serving our customers’ health care needs,” she said during the Emerson Group Industry Day conference last October. “Our customers are looking for affordable, accessible solutions to manage their health, and we have a role to play in that — not just in the form of our O-T-C merchandising product offering, which is a big business that’s earned us a lot of trust with our customers — but also because of the expanded opportunity to interact with Walmart, whether they walk in and engage with the pharmacists or with our optical or hearing aid businesses in our stores, or whether they walk into one of our health care clinics to be served by a physician.”
Not surprisingly, this ongoing transformation has changed the role of the merchant and of the supplier, according to Azrai-Kawas. “Our customers’ needs are changing, and how they expect us to show up is changing,” she pointed out. “So we are continuously and rapidly evolving how we work. It’s really important for us as a merchandising group to be very focused on how we show up winning with our customers, not just with the brands and products we offer, but also in how we show up as the primary destination for our customers, whether they choose to interact with us in-store or online.”
Creating that mindset for the merchants is important, Azrai-Kawas added, because we now have to think about how to help customers make good decisions and choices by clarifying their options. Being able to offer great items at great prices is key, of course, especially in today’s inflationary environment. But merchants are expected now to possess a depth of understanding about the value chain as well.
“We care about where the product comes from, where it’s manufactured, where do the raw materials come from,” she explained. “How is it being packaged? Is the labeling and the education piece on the packaging and on the product display page very clear? So there is a lot of engagement with our suppliers around how the product is being made and how we communicate with our customers about it.”
Both merchants and suppliers need to think about the customer first and understand the customer’s problems that need to be solved, Azrai-Kawas remarked. With that as a foundation, merchants and suppliers can creatively collaborate to produce provide solutions that meet customers’ needs.
“We need to collaborate on innovation that solves customer problems and harnesses the trust we have as a primary destination,” she said. “We rely on our suppliers and engage with them in a way that makes sure we build on being the house of brands, so they find that Walmart is the place where they can launch, accelerate and grow their brands as well.”