Walmart CEO McMillon’s tire buying experience drives innovation at Sam’s Club

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 5,966 views 

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon shares his tire buying experience at Sam's Club.

Sam Walton once said the best ideas often come from the people who work and shop the retail giant. That proved to be true recently when Walmart CEO Doug McMillon went to Sam’s Club to purchase tires after running over a nail.

McMillon said it was a Saturday and he was third in line with two members behind him. He said while the employees were working hard to serve the members the process of finding the right tires was time consuming and outdated for today’s eager consumers.

McMilion recently joked about his experience at the retail giant’s annual shareholder meeting in Fayetteville, (June 7).

“I could tell one of the people in line had recognized me and he didn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to because his facial expression says it all: ‘How’s it feel to wait in line, dude? Surely, you can do something about this,’” McMillon shared.

Feeling lots of pressure, McMillon said he caught up with Sam’s Club CEO John Furner the following week and he suggested Furner might want to take a look at the tire buying experience at Sam’s Club.

Over the next nine months, the Sam’s Club tech team built a new system they call Sam’s Garage. The team was led by Suchi Vakkalagadda, who works at Sam’s Club.

The media got a demonstration of Sam’s Garage during a club tour as part of shareholders week. The old system was slow and driven by a desktop computer. The new application is mobile and allows members to upload their vehicle information into the system under their member ID. The new system will be rolled out across the country in Sam’s Clubs next month. The employee can scan the member’s card into the system and the type of tires, batteries or other items that fit that vehicle will appear on the screen.

Sam’s Garage will allow employees to give members personalized tire recommendations in less than five minutes — previously a 30-minute experience on average. The company said with Sam’s Garage, the tire and battery center goes from a desktop, multi-system and catalog setup to a user-friendly app on a mobile table. The tire and battery center workers will use the Sam’s Garage app that incorporates all five supplier systems, in-club inventory, vehicle-industry data (specs, trims, size) and years of member purchase history from all Sam’s Club locations nationwide.

The member consultation process is quick as the proprietary algorithms provide personalized recommendations for members’ cars. The total cost of the order is immediately calculated including discounts, taxes, instant savings, and disposal fees.

The company said this tool goes beyond creating a better shopping experience; it also provides data that can be leveraged to ensure the member gets the best overall service in the future. For instance, employees will know when the last time tires were rotated, wipers replaced and batteries checked and they can identify and anticipate these future needs on behalf of the members.

Sam’s Club officials said Vakkalagadda dug through 25-year-old technology for all the club locations and supplier-provided systems. She and her team had 600 clubs, five systems and inventory for each, which added up to more than 1,100 data sources to start with. From concept to complete, Sam’s Garage took less than nine months to build, test and put into use in clubs across the country.

The better tire buying experience is part of the technology story unfolding at Sam’s Club. Given that consumers have become so used to having their questions answered by Siri, they have become impatient having to wait.

The technology team at Sam’s Club figured out a way to use voice commands in a smart device inside the Sam’s Club app that uses machine learning to deliver quick results in the tool known as Ask Sam. This is a digital assistant that helps workers find the answers they need at their fingertips.

By “asking Sam,” the digital tool delivers answers in real time for questions like price checks, product availability, scheduling maintenance, or how to decorate a cake. Ask Sam is being used in clubs across the U.S. and the retail giant said Ask Sam has already answered more than 1.5 million questions for employees.

Furner said tools like these in the hands of employees are providing a better shopping experience for members and also improving overall club efficiencies.