BENTONVILLE, Ark. — As Walmart delivers on its mission to help people save money so they can live better, a growing and important category is health and wellness. As vice president of wellness merchandising for Walmart U.S., Vinima Shekhar and her team focus on this each day.
Shekhar joined Walmart to work in its e-commerce operations, helping to integrate the in-store and online shopping experiences and giving customers the ability to shop however, wherever and whenever they choose to. This became especially critical during the pandemic, where customers needed access to alternate channels. She then took skills and experiences learned in that role to an emerging H&W fintech team, Directed Spend, focused on delivering a better technology and omnichannel program to connect customers, health plans and Walmart to optimize the value of customers’ health savings and Medicare Advantage spending plans.
Although health savings plans are not new, what stood out about Shekhar’s team was the scope of effort in scaling this technology, integrating it within Walmart merchandising, adding food benefits and the speed of execution to help millions customers who need access to over-the-counter products and healthy foods in one place.
“The technology we built allowed customers to unlock their benefits both in-store and online across the largest assortment of both O-T-C and healthy foods at an every-day low price.” Shekhar highlights how Walmart leads in this space with its omnichannel program allowing customers from the most vulnerable of populations and underserved communities to redeem benefits easily, where access to O-T-C products and healthy food has been cost-prohibitive. “Unfortunately, many Americans face tough choices every day. They are trying to decide, ‘Do I pay my electricity bill or do I manage my health?’ And at Walmart our mission is for every customer to save money and live better, and these programs deliver on this mission.”
Shekhar says some of these programs help reduce racial and health disparities by increasing access to healthy foods and medicines. “Directed Spend programs not only save customers money, but we believe can help reduce the cost of care over time because it incentivizes you to invest in your health, which should never be a choice, but often is. Working on this business has been one of my proudest moments — the ability to help millions of customers who need it the most.”
Shekhar currently serves as vice president of merchandising of wellness at Walmart U.S., a job that she says also involves helping customers’ live better through the availability of affordable, high-quality health and wellness products, through any channel in which they wish to shop.
“Walmart is in a unique position to provide affordable health and wellness to all Americans,” she says. “Our ambition is anchored in becoming the most trusted health and wellness destination. We know our customers are busy, and we need to make their lives easier and better, whether it is being able to order product online, pick up in-store, delivered at home, or getting it the same day. We do this to help them across every life stage starting with kids and as they age.”
To gain that trust, Shekhar says she and her merchandising team are dedicated to making wellness easy, affordable and accessible. “And the way we are doing that is to be really thoughtful around the expansion of our assortment, both in existing and in emerging need states. We are focused on knocking down barriers to make wellness easy for all. We have built great brands of our own, including Spring Valley and Equate, that offer exceptional value and quality to our customers at unbeatable prices.”
Shekhar has spent a large part of her career in the health care sector, initially on the supplier side. “The consistent thread has always been this focus on health and wellness, and access to a better life — and even more so now since COVID,” she says. “Walmart has an important role to play in this space with our broad range of products at an everyday-low price.
“One of the things that allows us to deliver affordability and access is to be maniacally focused on everyday-low costs — EDLC — which allows us to give EDLP, the everyday-low price, which is anchored in Walmart’s core merchandising strategy,” she says. “We know that value is important to our customers, and that’s what makes us well positioned in this space to win — along with being really thoughtful to address the diversity of the need states of our customers, no matter who they are and where they are in their wellness journey.”
Shekhar says her team detects an underlying sentiment in consumers that is compelling them to take proactive control of their health and wellness journeys.
“The way Americans are seeing and utilizing health care is going through a radical transformation. Health motivations are going beyond disease prevention. We’re seeing customers that, in addition to seeking longer lives, are seeking quality of life. They’re seeking balance, and rest, how do I sleep better and take care of my mental health more,” she says. “One of the things we’re trying to tackle is this concept of holistic wellness, which is not just about going to a doctor and not just about relieving pain at a moment in time but really taking control and power to manage your health and wellness journey. When I think about health and wellness, it’s so incredibly personal, and I believe that retailers that think about a partnership with their customers are the ones that are going to win.” Adds Shekhar, “When you’re in a position where you have the ability to impact millions of lives, there’s just this intrinsic happiness that comes with it. I think it has helped my team in being relentlessly focused on making wellness an achievable goal for all. Because it should be, right? I’m really blessed to work with fabulous teams who get to solve highly complex and important problems at such a large scale. But one thing is always true — we keep the customer at the center of everything we do.”