'Giving value to customers when they need it most'
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — As Walmart’s chief merchandising officer, Charles Redfield and his team are responsible for making sure the retailer’s customers, whether shopping online or in stores, can always find the items they want at the lowest possible prices.
The high rate of inflation that has shocked consumers in the past year has made that effort more challenging and even more critical. And Walmart’s merchants have stepped up. President and chief executive officer Doug McMillon noted in a third-quarter conference call that Walmart delivered solid top-line results in the period and added that the company’s value proposition is resonating with consumers.
“With the cost of everyday items still stubbornly high in too many categories, more customers and members are choosing us for the value and assortment we’re known for, and they’re responding to the changes we’ve made to save them time,” McMillon said. “With this in mind, we’re focusing on earning repeat business from customers who are now shopping with us more frequently than before.”
Redfield said that when inflation started skyrocketing, it was immediately apparent how painful that was for consumers. “But providing value is in Walmart’s DNA, and I’m proud of our work in lowering prices and giving value to customers when they need it most.”
Redfield noted that one of the things that differentiates Walmart from other retailers is a business model based on operating with everyday-low costs that drive everyday-low prices.
“It means we work with our supplier partners a little bit differently, stripping as much cost as we can out of products and the supply chain so we can bring the best value to our customers every day. Our mission as a company is to save people money so they can live better, and that’s right at the heart of who we are as merchants.
MMR has named Redfield its Merchant of the Year for 2022, recognizing how effectively he and his team have delivered on that promise. Redfield, who previously served as executive vice president of food for Walmart U.S., was promoted to his current role as executive vice president and chief merchandising officer in January 2022.
“Charles is well prepared for this role, having previously served as the chief merchant at Asda and Sam’s Club and having led our U.S. grocery business the past six years,” Walmart U.S. president and CEO John Furner wrote in a memo announcing the promotion.
Redfield called the fact that he was the chief merchant at Asda, Sam’s Club and now at Walmart U.S. one of the highlights of his career so far. He and his family lived in the United Kingdom when he held the post at Asda, and he notes that “it was an opportunity to see a different part of the world and how Walmart serves those customers, which was fascinating.” He added that all three roles were fun, challenging and quite different.
“Asda was in a different market and mainly focused on groceries,” Redfield said. “We sold general merchandise, but the stores were primarily supermarkets, and the focus was on food. It’s a very fast-moving, close-knit industry. There are a lot of secrets, so speed is essential. And our delivery business started there 20 years before it started over here.
“At Sam’s Club, we had a limited-SKU model, so we were not dealing with full assortments. It was all about items. You lived and died by the item.” Redfield said that his experience at Sam’s Club taught him to be a merchant focused on the details, getting into the specifics about items and their packaging for every product.
Being chief merchant at Walmart U.S. is different, partly because it’s a much bigger business with far more products.
“With Walmart U.S., we’re talking about an enterprise with 4,700 stores located within 10 miles of 90% of America. And we serve customers however they want to be served,” Redfield explained. “We have 130,000 SKUs on average inside a store, but then we have hundreds of millions of SKUs online. Together, these are huge assets for Walmart, and we’re focused on bringing them together into a seamless experience for our customers. We’ve made a lot of progress, and our stores are doing an incredible job fulfilling digital orders in all kinds of ways. That might be through curbside pickup, a delivery driver, an in-home delivery or even a drone.” “That’s one of the great things about Walmart — we don’t ever stop innovating. And with that comes complexity. The size and scale can already be daunting when you run a business the size of ours. Serving those customers however they want to be served adds another layer of complexity. But we thrive on that. We want to make sure we’re there for the customer. And while it gets challenging, solving those problems is also quite fun.”
Redfield has a personal connection to the position of chief merchandising officer at Walmart U.S. His uncle, Bill Fields, held the same post from 1988 to 1992.
“That’s very special to me, to follow in his footsteps and come into that role 30 years later,” Redfield said, adding that he has a photo in his office of Fields (who later served as president and CEO of what is now Walmart U.S.) with Sam Walton.
The role of the merchant at Walmart has evolved quite a bit since the company’s early days, and even from when Redfield first started.
“The way it used to work is that suppliers would come here and pitch us their items,” Redfield recalled. “We would look at what they had and decide what goes on the shelf and what goes on feature.
“It’s evolved into something completely different now. Instead of sitting back and waiting to see what our suppliers bring us, we work with them to develop new items. We may look at the data as merchants and see a gap in the marketplace. So we’ll work with a supplier and say, ‘Can we develop an item with you?’ Then we’ll work together to do that, and then we’ll figure out if we can source the product more sustainably and find the most efficient way to get them through the supply chain. And then, because we have so many different channels to sell it through, we’ll develop a strategy that best meets the needs of our customer, whether in store, online or some combination of both.
“We have to think about all that as merchants today — our role has expanded dramatically.”