TUCSON, ARIZ. — Customers still love the box — or so says Wal-Mart U.S.’s chief merchant.
As the industry continues to invest in technology, Wal-Mart U.S. plans to win through a combination of efforts that embrace physical and digital innovation.
Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart U.S. chief merchandising officer, spoke at the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing’s annual conference, to talk about what his company sees as the trends driving retail’s future.
At the top of that list was a full-on embrace of physical stores.
“People love to shop,” the executive said as he clicked to an image in his presentation of Beyoncé shopping at Wal-Mart.
The company sees 140 million customers in its U.S. stores weekly and more than 90 million unique visitors to its online site monthly. Thus, while technology presents opportunities, innovation doesn’t always have to be tech-based, Bratspies pointed out.
“Retail is a human relations business,” the executive said. “People want to see things. They want to touch things. They want to be able to interact.”
Bratspies pointed to a recent overhaul of how the store is merchandised for back-to-school, which included better displays. The company has also introduced new beauty, pharmacy, baby, entertainment, hot foods and hardware departments at some stores in an effort to provide the services that can’t be had online.
“When we nail the basics, we free up capital time and resources to invest in innovation,” Bratspies said.
These include the ability to take a virtual reality tour of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. Bratspies also went through a host of other programs the company is testing such as Scan & Go, which lets customers get what they need in stores and check out with their phones. There is also the endless aisle, which gives shoppers access to a much larger breadth of stockkeeping units, via in-store digital touch screens, compared to what could ever fit into a store.
Free two-day shipping, unveiled in January, on walmart.com for more than 2 million items is expected to give the retailer firming footing on which to compete with Amazon. The site currently offers more than 35 million items.
Last week the company revealed a discount on online items purchased on the web and then shipped to the store for pickup. The program currently offers discounts on some 10,000 items but Bratspies said that will expand to over a million items by June, helping squeeze out the additional cost associated with that last delivery mile to customer’s homes. That savings, Bratspies said, is then passed on to customers.
“We’re creating price transparency to empower customers to shop smarter,” he said.
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