Walmart is in the midst of transitioning the protocol and oversight of third-party content providers who work on behalf of suppliers selling items on Walmart.com.
The retail giant said it recently surveyed 650 of its suppliers for feedback regarding online content, the cost and the return on investment they were getting from working with third-party content providers.
“What we found was a wide range of disparity between the costs and payoffs for our suppliers,” said Frank Ogura, product manager for content acquisition at Walmart. “Just like when we reeled in the number of in-store merchandisers last year, we are also scaling down the number of content providers and looking for those with deep category expertise to better serve our suppliers.”
Ogura said the transition to the new protocol is 100% optional. He said Walmart has chosen 12 connected content providers with particular expertise in various categories, and those are the companies Walmart will refer to suppliers starting in October.
“We narrowed the field from 25 to 12 connected content partners,” Ogura said. “That doesn’t mean a supplier can’t use someone else not on the list. But if they do choose a provider that is not among the 12, that provider will have to be vetted by Walmart.”
He said Walmart will have checks in place to ensure fair pricing, and he said the service should bring added value to suppliers. He said suppliers surveyed wanted more clarity in who to work with for specific categories. He said the new protocol aims to lower the costs for suppliers and build a relationship with experts who can contract with them and see tangible benefits — sales, conversions and increased traffic, for example.
Ogura wants suppliers to know four key elements in the transition taking place:
• It is not mandatory for suppliers using a content provider to move to one of the 12 connected content partners. All suppliers will keep their API access to Walmart’s catalog and continue to use supplier credentials to submit content.
• Benefits to using one of the 12 connected content partners include having an on-site presence to help navigate the intricacies of digital commerce, having priority ranking for category expertise and providing clear direction on Walmart priorities.
• The difference between a syndication partner verses enrichment. A syndication partner sends content to Walmart and other retailers that exists under the brand to lower to the cost of managing it internally and mapping it to Walmart’s required SPEC. An enrichment provider creates and manages content that seeks to differentiate from brand content such as Walmart specific, like item setup, content enrichment and rich media.
• Walmart chose to keep the rich media partners separate because they have the capability to create enhanced experiences such as stoppable modules regardless of specific category expertise. RichContext and Webcollage are the two rich media partners selected by Walmart.
Fayetteville-based WhyteSpyder was selected as one of the 12 connected content partners. WhyteSpyder is tagged as one of the enrichment providers with deep content expertise in apparel, auto, lawn and garden categories.
“I think this is a great move helping shoppers, Walmart and suppliers,” said Eric Howerton, CEO of WhyteSpyder. “The old system of trying to manage content services along with other third-party players such as social media, influencers and the like created some analysis paralysis on behalf of suppliers who are trying to manage their bottom lines.”
Howerton said WhyteSpyder is thrilled to be among the 12 partners chosen by Walmart, and the categories of apparel, auto, lawn and garden hold lots of opportunity. They are the higher margin items compared to consumer packaged goods. He said WhyteSpyder will continue to work on behalf of suppliers outside the categories tagged by Walmart.
Howerton said many companies are after the CPG content business, but there are big opportunities in other categories, and WhyteSpyder will focus on those as needed. While specifics of the contract with Walmart were not provided, Howerton said WhyteSpyder is prepared to imbed someone inside Walmart with respect to the initiative, and that has been discussed between the partners.
With respect to the attitudes he’s seen from suppliers regarding investments in content for online sales, Howerton said the sentiment is changing a bit as vendors understand the need for data in real context. He said content is part of digital merchandising, more so than marketing, which is where many vendors were trying to expense the service.
Howerton said everyone selling to Walmart is aware of the importance of omnichannel, and the search most often begins online. He said robotic merchandising is “with us to stay” and content has to be recognizable by the bots and algorithms used by retailers. When a shopper types in an item in a browser and hits search, it’s the bots that respond. Howerton said typing in the search field is comparable to walking into a big box store, but the patience of an online shopper is limited. And if they don’t get the response they want online, they will quickly bounce to another site.
Howerton said writing content is trickier for voice search and text search, and demand will only grow in the coming months. He said Walmart is moving ahead quickly to help suppliers better manage their content online and whatever comes next.
Some suppliers have been supportive of the change in protocol.
“The new connected content partner program will unlock suppliers’ ability to get best-in-class content to Walmart and remove all the friction and frustration that’s been building up over the past few years over this process,” said Whitney Cooper, e-commerce lead at Kellogg’s for Walmart and Jet.com. “As the world of retail evolves, the digital shelf is just as important as the one we see in the store. It is imperative that brands understand how the content on their item pages can either make or break a shopper’s experience.”
Cooper said through the new program, Walmart is showing its commitment to their customers and their supplier partners, and Kellogg’s is very excited for the rollout.
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