The Supply Side: Wal-Mart exec shares with suppliers strategies on customer opportunities

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 50 views 

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.
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The lines between in-store and online commerce continue to blur and Wal-Mart Stores is determined to win at the intersection where consumers are shopping, according to Jane Ewing, senior vice president of digital acceleration at Wal-Mart.

Ewing’s team works in merchandising in conjunction with Walmart.com, Jet.com and Hayneedle, an e-commerce site acquired by Jet earlier this year. She has held the role for four months. Prior to September she was responsible for leading the expansion of digital commerce into Walmart U.S. stores with a focus on in store pickup. She also led the work on supercenter reinvention using the two stores in Rogers as testing grounds for integrating technology into the supercenter shopping experience.

Ewing spoke to a room of suppliers and other business professionals Wednesday (Nov. 30) at the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber’s WalStreet Breakfast held at Sam’s Club home office in Bentonville. Much of Ewing’s planned talk dealt with the ongoing evolution of retail. She said Wal-Mart once did business its own way, but now it’s scrambling to accommodate consumer demands which have to incorporate multiple shopping formats that result in one cohesive buying experience.

Ewing said providing a seamless shopping experience is top of mind at the retail giant. She said tests for technology applications such as Scan & Go and WalmartPay are gaining traction with shoppers in stores, though she did not provide statistics around adoption rates. Ewing said the in-store pickup option for online orders is also being used in several ways. She said online grocery is growing but so is in-store pickup for non-grocery items. For instance when there is a new release for something related to Star Wars, Ewing said people order it online as soon as it’s available, but then elect to pick it up in store later that same day.

One topic Ewing continued to hammer home with suppliers is the need for them to invest time and money into beefing up online content for items sold at Walmart U.S. and Walmart.com. Not only did she tell them to “lean in” where content is concerned but she was clear that the retailer wants suppliers to share that data with Wal-Mart.

newsupplysidelogo2016Ewing was asked what she thinks could be the next disruption in retail. She said the work in virtual and augmented reality is interesting and how it might apply to retail is exciting. When asked how the local supplier community will need to change as technology becomes more of a retail focus, Ewing said there will always be a need for the basic retail fundamentals, but cautioned suppliers from holding on to past assumptions.

“We all have to get more digital capabilities. Learn from the generation passing through because they are digital natives. We call it reverse mentoring where you help them grow as leaders and they help you with digital prowess,” Ewing said.

She said Wal-Mart knows it can better serve its customers by focusing on three opportunity areas and suppliers are asked to help.

• Item & Supplier Setup
Ewing said all store items have carefully crafted associated online content. For instance when shoppers in stores pick up an item like a blender, it’s not uncommon for them to scan the UPC code and check for online reviews, videos and other information that can often make or break a sale. The item setup and content creation falls on the shoulders of suppliers. Without it suppliers are missing sales opportunities in stores, she said.

“You are not limited in space online like you are in-stores … think about photos, videos and ratings that can help sell the product to consumers who expect transparency and more details about their purchases,” Ewing said. “Brands that are doing this are outperforming those who don’t.”

Ewing was asked how Walmart can capture impulse buying online and once again she said it begins with content and she sees “tons of opportunities to explore impulse-buying online.”

• Maintain Price Leadership
Ewing said the retailer’s Everyday Low Price strategy is still at the core of its business, because it works.

“We have to maintain price consistency for our customers and online that can be more challenging,” she said.

When asked about using coupons to entice more people to try grocery pickup she said Wal-Mart is already picking the items for the customer and giving them a low price which is a good deal without a coupon.

• Inventory Management
Ewing said the retailer is seeing some successes in inventory reduction and in-stock levels are better, which helps suppliers and the retailer. Fully utilizing the supply chain is also important, she said as Wal-Mart works to expand its online marketplace and still have customers able to choose a delivery option that fits their needs.

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