Wal-Mart execs optimistic, tout smartphone reach

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 86 views 

Wal-Mart executives painted a rosy picture for the company’s future Thursday afternoon (May 31) at a media conference in Rogers. The positive vibes are grounded, according to the execs, in solid financial results over the past few quarters and the company stock trading at a 12-year high.

But the prevailing question on everyone’s mind was how much the retail giant would disclose about the battered reputation suffered since allegations of bribery and cover-up in Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary surfaced last month.

International CEO Doug McMillon shared a few words about how the company was using time opportunity to grow and improve in every element of compliance.

The “Live Better” segment touted Wal-Mart’s progress in its mission to be achieve “Zero Waste” by 2015. Since 2005, landfill wastes are down 80% in Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores, according to Andreas Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability.

She said companywide there are 180 renewable energy projects underway, generating 1.1 billion kilowatts of renewable energy in 2010 — enough to power 22% of the world’s electricity.

Thomas said the company keeps consumers updated on the progress its making in reaching its sustainability goals via an online blog.

Sylvia Burwell, president of the Wal-Mart Foundation told the group $980 million were given away last year in cash and in-kind donations.

When asked if the recent negative publicity from the investigation was impacting new store efforts in U.S. communities, Wal-Mart said the best tool they have is to be upfront and meet with community officials about being a partner. That means adding jobs and providing local citizens cost savings on food and items they need and use every day.

Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs, said as the economy has been tough in recent years civic leaders have been more receptive about partnering with Wal-Mart.

Neil Ashe, president and CEO of global e-commerce for Wal-Mart, said in the past six months the team has built a new search engine for the company. He said @Wal-Martlabs is committed to empowering the consumer with constant development of new applications for the smartphone user which is 50% of Wal-Mart’s customers and growing at a healthy clip.

Ashe said the technology allows a shopper to go into a store and shop from a near endless supply of goods available in Wal-Mart’s supply chain.

“If you go in shopping for bike and they don’t have the color you want, scan the barcode and our application will bring up all the inventory we have in warehouses or on order. That product can be picked up in your store tomorrow in most cases,” Ashe said.

He said the company is testing a monthly mailer called “Goodies” that will allow consumers to use and comment on a basket of products. The cost of subscription has not been released.

The company also is harvesting social media feeds and using that data to put items that consumers want in stores. During the holiday season a Tweeter feed on consumers wanting a cake pop machine prompted Wal-Mart to stock up on that item in time for the holidays.

Wal-Mart said they sold like crazy, and were available because the demand could be accurately assessed ahead of time.

Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer said business membership is growing but small businesses still find sourcing credit an issue. She said businesses that have sustained themselves through the past few years are hesitant to take on new debt and are buying only what they need.

Brewer and Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising officer for Wal-Mart U.S., said they are most concerned about the electronics segment.

“There has virtually no new innovation since the flat screen television. All the attention has shifted to mobile devices and tablets but we still have a lot of space dedicated to electronics in our stores,” Brewer said.

There are 25 Wal-Mart stores that have Apple mini-stores inside, including the store in Rogers at Pleasant Grove Road. Twelve of the stores have an Apple employee running the site.

The concept is being tested, and there are plans to locate Apple stores in Sam’s Clubs, although the wholesale warehouse club already offers Apple products.