E-commerce is not something Wal-Mart Stores just discovered in the past few years. The retail giant stood up its online division in 1999 after acquiring a site and converting it to Walmart.com, according to Jeremy King, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Walmart U.S and eCommerce.
King was the afternoon keynote speaker at the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit held in Rogers on Tuesday (Oct. 17). He is responsible for Walmart Labs, the technology arm of the retail giant, and it’s a job he’s had since late 2015. King said he was recruited to Wal-Mart six years ago by then-CEO Mike Duke. He said Wal-Mart had let its online business languish but had begun buying some startups when he joined the company.
“We were a small shop with about 60 people, which had mostly come on through acquisition. In 2011 we had an outdated system but Wal-Mart made 14 acquisitions over the next few years adding talent and technology capabilities. When I started we had about 70,000 items online and we [now] have just surpassed 65 million,” King said.
Walmart Labs now employs about 6,000 people around the globe with the largest concentrations in Bentonville and San Bruno, Calif. King said recent brand expansion through acquisitions of ModCloth, Moosejaw, Shoes.com and Bonobos are a new era for the retailer, given it also has Jet.com to leverage with higher income urban shoppers.
King said Wal-Mart is truly different from many other retailers. It has a Bentonville hub with tenured retail expertise for brick-and-mortar that is connected with a true technology hub located in Silicon Valley.
King said he cut his teeth in retail at age 16 working after school and weekends at Payless Drug Store in Morgan Hills, Calif., the town where he grew up. His father was an engineer at IBM and his mom an artist. King said he and his twin brother had jobs in competing drug stores as teenagers, and they used to fool people because they looked so much alike.
“I had that job until my first year of college,” he said.
King said he was tech geek from early on but also loved water polo and swimming. Today, he’s a mountain biker and has suffered from 14 broken bones over the years.
“I always had a love for building things, too, and my family worked to renovate our 1920s home over the years when I was a child. My dad basically used my brother and I as slave labor,” he joked.
King said he never saw himself working for a giant company like Wal-Mart, but when he saw the opportunity to help construct Walmart Labs back in 2011, he believed the retailer was serious about investing in e-commerce.
Before joining Wal-Mart, King spent three years at LiveOps as executive vice president of technology. At LiveOps, he guided Fortune 500 companies to migrate their services to the cloud, embrace crowdsourcing in the enterprise and adopt highly available and secure SaaS platforms.
Prior to that, he was vice president of engineering and software development at eBay. During his tenure, he led the team that selected and implemented the next-generation application platform “V3”, ran engineering teams for trading and fraud systems, launched eBay in seven new countries, opened development centers in China and India and was a key member of the PayPal integration team.
WALMART LABS MISSION
King said Walmart Labs functions as small groups of people with one cohesive mission to innovate with intention for real impact and change.
He said the new structure since February has focused on three main areas for innovation — customer, merchants, supply chain. King said in February he combined the technology groups in Bentonville and San Bruno who work on different projects but all report to him. He said there is a massive data team and a huge private cloud management and an infrastructure team that watches everything 24/7 including storm monitoring and disaster relief.
King echoed Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon’s words about being amid a transformation period of history. He said technology is going to solve the really big problems with trial and error.
He also recapped some of the technology coming from Walmart Labs innovation in recent months. He said capabilities like grocery pickup, easy reorder and the new partnership with Google all came of out Walmart Labs. He said for two giants like Google and Wal-Mart to work together is unusual but the retailer sent a team into Google and was told to figure it out. He said the easy reorder with Google required machine learning and furnishing algorithms to Google so the device would know what kind of toothpaste a particular customer uses.
King said innovation is great but even so, Wal-Mart will always be people-led and tech-empowered, and that isn’t likely to change.