From its beginnings as a discount store with a simple way of helping people save money and live better lives, Walmart, with 2.2 million employees serving 265 million customers weekly and annual revenues over a half-trillion dollars, has become not only the world’s largest retailer, but the quintessential example of the traditional retail approach.

Now, they are looking to turn that approach on its ear and reboot the future.

Tom Ward, Walmart's very thoughtful Senior Vice President of Consumer Product, and a key figure behind Walmart’s “digital makeover,” joined me for a “look-under-the-hood” episode of The Reboot Chronicles. Tom took me through how Walmart today is running on all cylinders and how they are driving some serious growth initiatives and timely partnerships that are pivotal to their future.


Firing on All Cylinders

The first thing I came to realize is that Tom and his team are just getting started. Even before the pandemic, Walmart had already stepped up its innovation game, mastering the omnichannel experience for customers. But when COVID hit, Walmart took the opportunity to grow its digital capabilities even further.

For example, Walmart has been working hard to develop a huge footprint of pickup convenience, delivering to the 90% of Americans who live within 10 miles of a Walmart store, and creating better ease and safety through hybrid shopping experiences. Safety is a key driver with Walmart and their US competitors. PwC states 65 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed are concerned about catching COVID. The International Council of Shopping Centers says 66 percent surveyed said they prefer to shop at stores with robust health and safety programs in place.

By launching these and other convenience and safety hybrid shopping programs aimed at blending its physical and digital channels, Walmart can further leverage its massive brick-and-mortar footprint.

At Kellogg, I talk a lot about large companies like Walmart. I call them "BFS’s": Big, Fat and Slow. Walmart has been notorious for their slowness until recently. When Doug McMillon became CEO, the biggest retailer began pivoting with unprecedented MVP speed (minimal viable product). Tom echoed this in our conversation. "We definitely move with great speed. I see customers engage with the proposition, and it truly motivates us to move forward with innovations and get them in front of people as quickly as possible."


The Ultimate Life Hack

Walmart has become a king of trials and MVP prototyping, especially through the device in your pocket. They recently launched a membership program called Walmart+ - as Tom says, “the ultimate life hack.” Walmart+ really shows the future of retail where the retailer connects and engages with their customers as never before—both instore, online and curbside.

Membership gives exclusive access to services that are aimed to help shoppers save time and money. Walmart+ brings together a comprehensive set of benefits: free unlimited delivery, the opportunity to save up to 5 cents a gallon and the Scan & Go feature—which lets customers scan items in-store as they shop. Look for more benefits to come. According to Tom, whether customers shop online or in-store, understanding your customer and providing a better/seamless customer experience is always their highest priority.


Reigning Over the Skies

That same drive for innovating the customer experience is also motivating Walmart to take a deep look at drones—not to mention a tough competitor like Amazon.

Walmart is considering taking its deliveries to the sky by teaming up with three drone companies: DroneUp, Flytrex, and Zipline.  Each drone provider brings something different to the table in terms of capabilities, delivery mechanism and dispensing technologies—that should provide some smart open-innovation/co-creation innovation platform choices. As part of Walmart's aggressive trial-and-error testing approach, the retailer examines if drones deliver real value to the customer, solve customer problems and whether it helps bring together Walmart's proposition.

Beyond technology, Walmart wants to learn how customers interact with this kind of technology. How likely they would you those drones? What versions of delivery mechanisms do they prefer? Is it convenient? What freedom does that give to the customers?


Juggling a Bizarre Christmas Season

I think 2020 will be the strangest Christmas season we have ever seen, morphing Black Friday into hybrid events—which started in October with Prime Day and will last all season long! Before the pandemic, people would line up and crowd into stores, but now companies must make sure that the way customers engage and shop with them is smart and safe—but still easy.

With contactless delivery becoming a prerequisite across industries, people have become reliant on online grocery delivery and pickup options to safely obtain necessities. In light of this and in preparation for the holiday season, Walmart, for the first time, will be activating curbside pickup at a mass scale.

But Tom says the retailer knows the in-store experience is still a significantly important experience. Certainly, as the omnichannel approach has changed forever, retailers must bridge online and physical worlds to include hybrid touch-point solutions. Instead of one big Black Friday event, they have three so far and will be extending hours, which should help flow control for you late night shoppers like me.

Target ‘s CEO Brian Cornell has echoed this, following Walmart’s lead to close for Thanksgiving Day, stating that they are taking a “completely new approach to Black Friday, minimizing the event-day shopping behavior that is typical for this time of year.” You can now check wait times online,  make reservations  at Target.com/line, use  contactless checkout and make last minute pickup time changes.

Tom in our conversation frequently referred to the focus on solving customers' problems, regardless of the channel that they select. To that end, Walmart's app is going to play a leading role in the physical shopping experience—whether it's about navigation, scanning, drive by pickup or payment—helping to remove pieces of friction that traditionally slowed the retailer down.

There is much more going on here, with many co-created innovations coming to a store near you soon...one common denominator seems to be a need for speed! "I think it is going to a huge lift in speed and convenience as a focus. I'm always excited and keen to see what the next innovation is going to be around the corner, and whom we can partner with to accelerate that," says Tom.

Watch our talk here or tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.


About The Reboot Chronicles Podcast: Hosted by Dean DeBiase, The Reboot Chronicles is a popular no-holds-barred podcast on iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts and YouTube that has been bringing together CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors, and global leaders, for over a decade, to discuss how organizations are rebooting their leadership-competitiveness of everything from growth, innovation, and technology to talent, culture, and governance. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts or at https://www.revieve.com/rebootchronicles

Named a "Growth Guru" by Inc. Magazine, Dean DeBiase is a Faculty Member at Kellogg School of Management and Silicon Valley serial CEO, where he has served in chief executive and chairman roles of more than a dozen emerging growth companies, CEO of Fortune 500 subsidiaries, and a director on public, private, family-enterprise, CVC, PE and VC boards. He is a Technology Fellow at Northwestern University, a Board Leadership Fellow at The National Association of Corporate Directors, and an Advisor to the National Science Foundation. A Forbes Contributor and co-author of the best-selling book The Big Moo, Dean, is working on his next book, Dancing with Startups. Connect with Dean here: www.linkedin.com/in/FollowDean

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How to Win the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

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