Casey Carl learned a lot about how customers choose the kind of experience they want to have when his wife first gave birth to his children.
While being at home was her top priority, there were always occasions when she really wanted a latte.
“Her priority for getting a coffee was which one had a drive through,” the chief omni strategy and operations officer at Walmart U.S. recalled during a session at the recent Collision technology conference. “It was worth it for her to pay the gas, to go further and bypass other ones that didn’t have a drive-through. Whereas normally she would go to the first coffee shop she saw.”
At Walmart, Carl is responsible for identifying similar preferences and behaviour patterns of the retail giant’s vast customer base, and investing in the technologies that will ensure they’re satisfied.
Although he admitted Walmart has thrived even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping on top of how consumer habits are changing has become an increased challenge.
“Some prefer still to shop in the stores, some have things that they order online every week,” said Caarl, who previously worked at retail competitor Target in an innovation role. “If it’s things that go in their lunchbox, they might say, ‘I know what I need every week, just have it show up.’”
While Walmart has to pay attention to the unit economics of offering products through one channel versus another, Carl said the strength of the company’s physical stores and its fulfillment centres allow it to be more nimble in terms of offering a range of prices and assortment options.
The true goal of any omnichannel strategy, Carl added, is that a brand becomes so good at it that the term “omni” goes away, and it’s just considered a standard part of retail.
“The customer doesn’t care,” he said. “They don’t care where we make our money or don’t take our money They don’t care where in the org chart or hierarchy something has to move s up . . . what they care about is having the freedom of choice to get it how they want it.”
Its well-known commitment to everyday low prices, Carl said flexibility and choice sometimes trump the cost of a particular product. “There’s also the value of time,” he said. “(The experience) can be driven buy the times of year, the type of customer, or the use case.”
Walmart assesses the degree to which it’s successful as an omnnichannel retailer in part through anecdotal feedback it gets directly from customers, Carl said, though more traditional metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS) apply too.
“We know from a market share perspective if we’re winning or losing,” he said. “We look at NPS with our call centres, NPS online . . . we’re tracking both the data and the behaviour we see.”
Walmart’s success has expanded from household goods to groceries and, more recently, financial services. The latter is an area where Carl noted the company doesn’t rely purely on its own innovation team but forms partnerships with outside entities.
Earlier this year, for instance, Walmart said it would be working with investment firm Ribbit Capital to develop fintech solutions.
Choosing the right partner involves looking at whether a third party is a trustworthy brand, Carl said.
“Exposing customers to those things is just like when you go to somebody’s house for dinner and you introduce a friend,” he said. “There’s a sense of, ‘I’m wiling to have this conversation,’ or in this case, to look at new (financial service offerings) that might benefit me and my family.”
Walmart’s other omnichannel priority is creating what Carl described as “authentic brand experiences” on social media. This could involve live shopping such as the use of “rich pins” on Pinterest, live-streaming and more.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.