Why Walmart May Be the World’s Top Digital Innovator
Although Walmart operates the world’s largest group of brick-and-mortar stores (10,585), its corporate messaging reads like that of a nimble startup working with cutting-edge technology and influential partners to deliver great customer experiences that drive growth and brand loyalty. In a sweeping set of announcements, this week and earlier this month, Walmart hit the accelerator on a technology juggernaut that is helping the company deliver powerful performance while navigating one of the most challenging retail environments in history:
- Advertising and commerce partnerships with TikTok, Snap, and Roku, to name just three titans
- Personalization, omnichannel integration, and more features on the Walmart website and app for better customer experiences
- Virtual try-on technology designed to make consumers more comfortable with clothing purchases
- Simple holiday charitable giving options for customers through Walmart.com
- Milestones in its GoLocal delivery service
Walmart regularly taps both third-party and acquired technology to deliver new functionality. The company is no stranger to technology investment and pursuit, including building its own retail industry cloud applications.
If all those factors don’t make Walmart (revenue for the 12 months ended July 31: £588 billion) sound like a digital-native company, then pay closer attention to this week’s announcement, which highlights a “multilateral culture of experimentation” and its work with “Innovation Partners.” Announcements are delivered in blogs written by senior corporate executives, at least one of whom invites readers to connect with him on LinkedIn.
Advertising, Commerce Partnerships
Walmart recognizes the importance of social connection — social feeds, live streaming, and mobile — when it comes to purchase decisions, especially among Gen Z and millennial customers.
New partnerships are intended to give advertisers access to buyers — through Walmart Connect — anywhere advertisers need to have it, in new ad formats that span the shoppers’ journey. Its Innovation Partners include:
- TikTok — the two companies are working together so advertisers can serve in-feed ads on TikTok, which will be augmented by Walmart Connect targeting and measurement functionality. It’s noteworthy that more than 50% of TikTok users say they watch in-feed ads and don’t scroll past them — a level of engagement that vastly exceeds web advertising
- Snap — Advertisers can now gain access to the Snapchat audience by buying Snap ad units through Walmart Connect, which will provide a geography-based measurement of omnichannel sales lift, which should be powerful given Snapchat’s audience that comprises 75% of 13 to 34-year-olds in the US.
- Roku — Walmart is the exclusive retailer enabling Roku TV viewers to purchase featured products fulfilled by Walmart directly on the popular streaming platform.
The customer experience is built for easy product discovery and a real-time checkout experience.
- Firework — This partnership aims to help advertisers create compelling mobile-first video experiences using Firework capabilities to create shoppable live streams and videos to run on the Walmart website.
- TalkShopLive — This partnership enables supplier-funded shoppable live streams on Walmart.com/live, TalkShopLive’s platform, as well as brand and publisher sites across the web via TalkShopLive’s embeddable video player.
For the latter two partnerships, Walmart has partnered with Johnson & Johnson as well as Procter & Gamble thus far on ad creation. The scope of these partnerships and the breadth of options Walmart is offering to advertisers gives the company and its advertisers incredible reach and penetration across some of the most influential consumer platforms. “Together, we will work with each partner to more deeply connect advertisers with customers throughout key moments in the shopper journey in order to provide the best solutions for advertisers,” Seth Dallaire, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer of Walmart U.S., said in announcing the relationships.
Personalization and More Web, App Features
Walmart detailed a number of website enhancements to make the shopper experience more personal — and to fuel maximum holiday sales.
New features include Scan to Add, allowing customers to scan items in-store using the Walmart app and add them directly to a gift registry for simple integration of online/offline experiences. As one example, kids can make their own gift lists on Walmart.com by simply “hearting” items and sharing them. Adults may not love that concept, but it will ensure they don’t buy gifts that kids don’t want.
A Choose Your Own Model feature lets a clothing shopper choose a model whose proportions resemble them and get a personalized view of how the clothing will look on them. Another enhancement benefits Spanish-speaking customers: The search experience at Walmart.com lets customers opt into, or out of, translated queries and search in Spanish for more than 600,000 of the most commonly ordered items. Collectively, these improvements check a couple of important boxes: removing guesswork and making the omnichannel experience as easy as possible for customers.
“When customs are ready to shift into holiday mode, we will be ready with their ideal digital experience, no finger crossing required,” Tom Ward, Executive Vice President and Chief eCommerce Officer of Walmart U.S., said in describing the enhancements.
The company is extending its virtual try-on technology with Be Your Own Model, which officials say will bring an in-store fitting room-quality experience to the web. Customers can use their own photos to visualize clothing on them. A customer will see an “ultra-realistic” simulation with shadows, fabric draping, and other details in seconds, delivered by leveraging algorithms and machine learning models originally developed for topographic maps.
The technology will show how a garment appears uniquely on an individual. Choose Your Own Model and Be Your Own Model result from the acquisition and implementation of the Zeekit virtual try-on platform. “Walmart is the first to offer a virtual try-on experience for apparel brands at scale, and it’s the most realistic application I have seen,” says Denise Incandela, Executive Vice President, Apparel and Private Brands, Walmart U.S.
Promoting Holiday Season Charitability
The company launched Spark Good, a set of resources on Walmart.com providing easy access to programs and tools for nonprofits while making charitable contributions simple for customers.
Spark Good Round Up allows customers to round up their purchase total at checkout on the website and in the app to a public charity of their choice. While many such programs exist in retail, they typically donate to a single organization of the retailer’s choice. Walmart is allowing customers to customize and choose their own charity.
Spark Good Registry is a resource whereby public charities can create and manage registries for products their clientele needs — using wedding and baby registries as a model — to ensure the highest impact. Charities can send charitable receipts and thank their donors.
The company provided a one-year update on Go Local, its local delivery platform and service that businesses of all sizes can tap for their customer delivery requirements. Walmart is on track to reach 5,000 pickup locations by the end of this year and offers delivery in as fast as 30 minutes.
“For our local and small business clients, we work closely with them to build out their delivery value proposition and scale their business to reach more customers,” said Harsit Patel, Vice President and General Manager, Walmart GoLocal. Walmart is approaching GoLocal with a co-creation mindset: “It’s energizing to collaborate with our clients — regardless of where they are in their delivery journey — and find new ways to support them and their business,” Patel says.
Walmart is not only the world’s largest company and retailer, but also one of the most innovative and aggressive users of digital technology. As such, its moves — and the growth mindset behind them — are instructive for companies of all sizes across industries.
Its digital focus and raft of digital engagement measures to drive revenue directly and through partners ensures a massive impact across retail, ecommerce, logistics, and a wide range of other industries.
That’s why all businesses competing in the acceleration economy need to keep close tabs on Walmart’s digital initiatives.
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