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Walmart’s Creighton Kiper on Evolution at Scale

Walmart's vice president of beauty fleshes out his vision for an increasingly agile — and digital — business.

Over the last two years, Walmart has significantly upped its beauty game, injecting speed and relevance into a business that already had scale on its side. To wit, the retailer partnered with Space NK to launch prestige beauty into select doors, dipped into co-creating brands with everyone from P&G to a host of influencers, and has set its sights on winning with Gen Z. Creighton Kiper, the retailer’s recently appointed vice president of beauty, is only picking up the pace.

Just nine months into his tenure, Kiper has launched Brooklyn and Bailey McKnight’s skin care brand, Itk, Halsey’s diffusion makeup line, Af94, and the Hair Lab, as well as BeautySpace, an incubated line of bath and body products created in conjunction with Space NK. “You can expect the same level of activity next year,” he said. “Beauty changes in trend, it’s like fashion. We’ve got some core tenets that we will stick to, and then we will reserve the right to get smarter.”

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Before taking over the beauty role from Musab Balbale, who left Walmart in February to join CVS as chief merchandising officer, Kiper oversaw wellness at Walmart, injecting buzzy trends like the chlorophyll water craze on TikTok into the retailer’s assortment of vitamins, ingestibles and the like. Prior to that, he worked on merchandising strategy and digital product at the retail giant, and he’s bringing his cumulative experience to bear on beauty. “There’s this product mind-set of working backward from a customer and always asking what problem we’re solving for,” he said. “That’s helped clarify our purpose and value.”

Here, Kiper on where the business is gaining speed, where he sees the opportunity and how he’s driving shoppers into beauty aisles.

What’s working at Walmart and why?

Creighton Kiper: There’s a lot that the customer is responding to. In general, the customer is absolutely leaning into beauty and not leaning out. We’ve got everything from our prestige business, our Beauty Space NK partnership that we launched earlier this year, and in stores, customers are responding to luxury and spending money on themselves.

What’s working in Walmart’s brand matrix? Where do you see the gaps?

C.K.: We’ve got brands like Luna Magic, Bubble, Itk, Af94 that have done super well. They’re a bit different in flavor because of the social component. Whether we think about personalization, mass personalization and finding brands that suit the biology of different skin tones or skin types, we still have work to do there.

Historically, Walmart’s key differentiators in beauty have been price, scale and replenishment. What are your other areas of focus?

C.K.: There’s been a high emphasis on digital. The other piece from a digital perspective is just capabilities. We talk about removing friction, and in beauty, tech will be important. It is now and it will be in the future. We do things like fun beauty events; we just came off our Walmart Mega Beauty Event for the month of September, and we had phenomenal results that were, to some degree, surprising.

From an innovation perspective, what’s exciting you right now?

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C.K.: There’s a lot of cool things in nails, and personalization in skin and hair are going to continue to be a focus. From a customer perspective, we will continue to drive multicultural, Latinx and other underrepresented and underappreciated groups and products that move us to more of a unified hair and unified beauty experience. We’ve also seen that men and their appetite to take care of their hair and skin and express themselves is growing, it’s becoming a focus area.

When I first got this role, within the first few days, I had more men come to me and ask, “What are you going to do for me?” As a business, we’ve drawn that line in the sand, we’ve talked about being the most inclusive beauty retailer on the planet. We’re going to do that by having accessible options for everyone so they can confidently be themselves.

What are the biggest learnings that inform your strategy?

C.K.: Experience is king. We’re going to focus a lot on that in-store and on site. We’ve also learned that this business is such a digitally motivated path to purchase, and the more that the customer influences and participates in that path, the more you start to see this become more of an ecosystem for the customer.

We’re thinking about how we operate and engage with the customer before the transaction, and then build trust in those moments, and hopefully serve them from a replenishment and discovery perspective. Our model is all about everyday low costs and access and innovation and newness.

How do you expect macroeconomic uncertainties to affect the business, in holiday and beyond?

C.K.: Our business is accelerating, and some of that is the strength of the decisions we made in [the first quarter]. We’re seeing more customers that make over $100,000 coming inside of our box than we ever have before. The play on prestige and our premium product is great. We have price points at $10 and under, which is about creating access in the segments at a low price point barrier, so customers can get into beauty and develop a regimen. We haven’t seen a slowdown to dramatic shifts.

Supply chains are a bit more stable than they’ve been in the past, so we feel good about the timing of product showing up and when customers expect it. So when they’re ready to gift, we’ve got an awesome program with Space NK. Their advent calendar is going to be great for us.

We’re in the golden age of specialty retail, what’s it going to take for Walmart to win with Gen Z?

C.K.: You’ve got brand experience and storytelling. We are building an arsenal of brands and products that solve that need, but making sure the customer experience and, from a digital perspective, that path to purchase, that we own that engagement and we build the audience. Then, we continue to tell that story. Beauty is fresh, it’s not static. It’s dynamic, it’s always upgrading. You’re learning something, you’re feeling inspired. We want to make sure that we’re there in those moments.