In 1979, Ron Tiarks went to work for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., where he worked in many positions in the field and at the home office, including a stint as president of Walmart Germany. After retiring in 2005, Tiarks founded Global Business Consulting and worked for two large retail businesses in Saudi Arabia. He joined the staff of 8th & Walton, a Bentonville-based supplier education firm, in early 2015.
In a recent interview, Tiarks talked about the impact of online shopping on retailing and the rise of the omnichannel consumer.
NWABJ: What does the term “omnichannel” mean?
Ron Tiarks: “Omnichannel simply refers to the different channels that can make up a customer’s shopping experience today. These channels can include traditional stores, websites, mobile phones and tablets, computers, home delivery and in-store pick-up.
“Omnichannel isn’t just shopping online. Omnichannel is the way that these different means of buying are now intertwined, offering consumers many new choices in the way they shop.”
NWABJ: What do all these changes mean to retailers?
RT: “The whole omnichannel way of doing business is very exciting. It’s only every few decades that something comes along that revolutionizes retailing. When Sam Walton started out, discount retailing was new and nobody really knew how it would evolve. It’s that way today with omnichannel, except that this change is happening so much faster. The impact of omnichannel shopping is going to be felt not decades from now but in just a few years. Its impact is much more immediate.”
NWABJ: Does omnichannel affect suppliers, too?
RT: “Absolutely. As with brick-and-mortar retailers, if suppliers can understand the new ways people shop and learn how to manage this new world, they have a rare opportunity to gain some market share, an opportunity that does not come along often.
“More specifically, it’s critical that suppliers get their store items online now. This includes items that customers can’t actually purchase online. All items need to be viewable online, because that’s how consumers research products and, in fact, how they shop today. Consumers are educating themselves about products online, so richer information, photos, specifics — all this will make a consumer more confident about a product — more likely to make a purchase from whatever source he or she then chooses.
“Walmart has an initiative now to get its entire store assortment online. Traditionally, suppliers haven’t had to concern themselves with this sort of thing, and so this new requirement — SAO, or Store Assortment Online — can be a lot for them to deal with. For the past several months, 8th & Walton has been offering classes to help suppliers comply with Walmart’s requirements and to help suppliers navigate this new omnichannel shopping world. It’s exciting to me that we are helping with that and that our classes will add value to the process for suppliers and consumers alike.”