NRF 2018: Walmart CEO Doug McMillon talks technology

There is now “more commonality” between Walmart’s retail markets around the world due to the advancement of technology in recent years, according to the grocer’s CEO Doug McMillon.

“All around the world people want to save money and they want to save time,” he explained during his keynote speech at NRF’s Big Show in New York, adding that technology is the enabler of those business improvements.

There are clear differences in each territory of course, and the grocery boss – who led up Walmart’s international operation for five years before becoming CEO in 2014 – said the company is always looking for inspiration from other territories. Through that approach, and acquisitions like the 2016 takeover of online marketplace, he said the company has evolved into more of a technology company.

“China is off the charts in terms of digital commerce," he said. 

“We are currently learning more from China than any other country in the world. We have a relationship with – we own 10% – one of the fastest growing eCommerce businesses.”

He added: “In China you can get delivery for about US$1 in 30 minutes from one of our stores.”

Interestingly, as Walmart looks to develop its digital credentials the grocer opted to have a presence on the NRF expo area for the first time this year, supporting McMillon’s claim the business is a becoming a “technology company”.

The purpose of the stand on the main show floor appears to be to engage with potential new technology partners and highlight the company’s range of brands, including online marketplace and menswear e-retailer Bonobos. Perhaps it can serve to attract new marketplace sellers too.

McMillon’s NRF presentation came just a few days after Walmart announced it is set to close 63 of its Sam’s Club stores, casting uncertainty over approximately 11,000 jobs. There are plans to turn around ten of those stores into online distribution centres to serve the company’s eCommerce operation.

In a wide-ranging presentation, the CEO avoided any mention of the closures, instead emphasising Walmart’s commitment to developing its employees in the most suitable way for a fast-changing retail industry. He also referred to some “difficult decisions” that always need to be made in the business.

One of McMillon’s major staff-based initiatives since he became CEO nearly four years ago was to launch over 200 academies which run two to six-week programmes for employees. The scheme aims to advance staff’s retailing skills, often using technology such as virtual reality to explain and showcase new practices and develop the skills base.

?“We want to foster a culture that supports change and helps us go along the journey we’re all on, which will lead to even more change in the future,” he said.

“As we make investments in technology and learn how to put artificial intelligence in store [for example], we want our people to live through that and help contribute to that. We want them to be part of the process.”

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