It was over thirteen years ago that the Wal-Mart brand was taking fire from all sides – media, competitors, and the government – the heat of anti-trust proceedings resulted in Wal-Mart becoming almost synonymous with “ultra-big-box retail.”
The Retail Apocalypse has been one of the defining forces since then, and the new climate has forced many big-box retailers out of business. Wal-Mart wasn’t immune, even for its size. Just this year, Alibaba dethroned Wal-Mart as the biggest retailer online and offline.
Since 2006, Wal-Mart’s appeal to selling a wide selection of cheap products hasn’t changed, and it isn’t their business model or inventory that has had them in the news recently. It has been their partnerships with tech companies and a litany of experimental pilot stores that has put them back in the news cycle.
What is Wal-Mart doing now to help it stay relevant in an age of retail where big-box is out – and what lessons can mid-sized retailers learn from it?
As is expected in an age where automation is becoming a powerful and cheaper alternative to minimum-wage employment, Wal-Mart is taking strides in reducing the overhead and operation costs of their stores.
Robots on treads have started appearing in pilot stores across the United States, their sole job to look for out-of-stock items, mislabeled products, or incorrect prices. Thus far, it seems as if these are only designed to supplement their staff, not replace them.
However, this does not make up the majority. Most of the tasks being taken by robots are more in-line with another topic we’ve frequently discussed than simply cutting costs.
Better Customer Experience
Wal-Mart has seen the writing on the wall and understands that in order to compete with the likes of Alibaba and Amazon, they have to be better than them, not replicate them.
In-store drones are capable of leading customers to the aisle of their choice, guiding them to the correct parts of the store given their shopping list. Drones are also the method of delivering products directly to a customer’s door, which includes groceries in their straight-to-fridge campaign.
Wal-Mart is also in the process of investing in a swath of other companies from Silicon Valley, which include virtual reality, drone guidance technology, and specialized robotics for in-store assistants.
What Wal-Mart’s Innovation Means For Retailers
The mammoth that is Wal-Mart has previously established itself as the affordable retailer with a wide inventory – they have never been focused on customer service nor enhancing the shopping experience.
This wave of new technology and experimenting with improving the customer journey should be a massive signal for mid-sized retailers. If the face of big-box itself is abandoning ship and getting into customer-focused retail, there will never be a clearer sign to make your stores more than a place to “stack-em-high.”
Wal-Mart has more capital than simply liquid assets, as well. They are leveraging a strong IT network present at their stores that can handle the bandwidth to bring these concepts to life. Testing these at pilot locations is no coincidence – optimizing their massive stores’ networks is time-consuming and requires a lot of work to get right.
However, Wal-Mart has the luxury of taking their time – most mid-sized retailers do not. If you are interested in becoming a customer-focused retailer, you need to start the process now. Especially at this time of year, having a customer journey that drives conversions is necessary for the upcoming seasonal shoppers.
Contact us today to find out how we can quickly and efficiently deploy such technology at your stores and build your network.