Blog: Walmart is becoming a Technology Company
From robots to R&D, AI to acquisitions, Walmart is going big into retail tech.
It’s the age of super firms and as Walmart was late to the party in E-commerce, it’s finally understood it needs to follow Amazon into everything in order to keep up.
If Alibaba has followed Amazon into the Cloud and Entertainment, and leads Amazon in brick-and-mortar technology integration, there’s a new order of how the world’s biggest retailers need to move.
Walmart is billing itself as a tech company, as it narrows its gap with Amazon online.
As a futurist that has written for years on retail technology, I’m starting to believe it.
It’s weird and awesome but in 2019, from advertising to A.I., Walmart is doing a lot more than just being a retailer. Walmart wants us to think of it differently, and we slowly are. From acquiring Flipkart in India to huge AI initiatives, Walmart is big enough to keep up.
Walmart’s Retail Lab stores are a prefect example of how Big Data and AI can be used in massive stores.
Last year Retail Dive (the best in retail news) listed 7 ways Walmart is innovating.
Walmart is basically on an acquisition spending spree that never ends. Walmart is investing more in tech, with billions spent on acquisitions and research and development. AI and R&D is key for Walmart to stay ahead, as China and Amazon continue to evolve, among others.
Walmart is rolling out next-day shipping in 2019 and its E-commerce side finally seems to be taking off.
You might only know Walmart as a place to stop to pick up milk or paper towels, maybe a few other things, on your way home from work. You might know Walmart is the biggest employer in America, but it needs to become more than that, it needs to become a technology leader or else it will be disrupted like Sears was all those years ago. To give you some context:
In 2019, Walmart operated a total of 11,766 stores throughout the world.
Since its inception in Arkansas in 1962, Walmart has arguably struggled to fit the bill as a “modern” retailer. Many consumers still think about the company’s Southern roots, its everyday low prices and warehouse-like store formats, when they think of Walmart.
This means Walmart will soon be 60-years old, it needs to keep up with the younger brands!
It’s testing a retail lab in New York using artificial intelligence. It recently, for an undisclosed amount, acquired Silicon Valley-based Polymorph labs, with the goal of using the start-up’s technology to make advertising with Walmart easier for small brands. While many of us prefer Costco’s experience, Walmart in America is golden.
Walmart is rolling out robots to scan shelves and scrub the floors.
Check out TechCrunch’s video about it:
A roving robot from Bossa Nova Robotics traverses the store collecting information, making sure pricing is up to date and shelf tags are accurate, identifying out of stocks and keeping track of overstock items that are now kept on the top shelf to reduce backroom trips for inventory replenishment.
In short, automation is coming to retail and Walmart, Amazon, Alibaba and JD.com are leading the way in what this will mean for the future of commerce and daily convenience.
Battle of the Retail Titans turns to Tech Wars
With the acquisition of Whole Foods that is slow to show traction for Amazon, essentially and in many ways, Walmart is becoming more like Amazon, as Amazon becomes more like Walmart, by opening stores and trying to sell more groceries.
In its latest quarter, Walmart’s e-commerce sales surged 43 percent. In 2018, it achieved online sales growth of 40 percent.
Walmart is realistically well behind Alibaba, Amazon and others, but it’s showing signs of an increased technology focus.
In the 4th industrial revolution things like cars and shopping centers are AI factories. I’m not just saying that.
Walmart deserves watching, even as Microsoft is trying to clone certain aspects of Retail automation and AmazonGo like features for retailers.
Walmart also thinks it can own a bigger and better advertising business, rivaling Amazon’s. That’s highly unlikely but advertising is a huge ROI play since it appears Google is slipping there as of 2019.
Walmart is siding with Azure vs. AWS/Amazon, but realistically it needs to enter the cloud itself to have the kind of scale Amazon and Alibaba will have in the decades ahead. Also Walmart’s efforts in entertainment to not yet appear very serious.
Amazon last year became the third largest ad platform in the U.S., only behind Google and Facebook. With more and more shoppers going straight to Amazon, not Google, to start their product searches, it’s giving the e-commerce giant the chance to advertise more. Walmart is realistically years behind Amazon in E-commerce and advertising. It’s not realistic to imagine they will ever catch up, but they need to try harder.
Walmart badly lacks the talent an Amazon can attract. Walmart needs a to change their brand image from being a monopoly to a younger company that was helped with their acquisition of Jet.com.
Just a few weeks ago, Walmart opened an Intelligent Retail Lab, also referred to as IRL, at one of its Neighborhood Maket locations, which are smaller than a typical Walmart store and just sell groceries, in Levittown, New York. Walmart as a Big Data and AI provider of retail interactions is fascinating. Many aspects of store management will be automated one day soon.
Don’t forget who we are talking about. Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue — netting approximately $485 billion, according to the Fortune Global 500 List. For Walmart to transition into a technology company won’t be easy, but in 2019 there a lot of positive signs they are trying to do just that.