Walmart is planning for the future with the understanding that shoppers don't expect a speedy economic recovery, Walmart chief customer officer Janey Whiteside said during a Jan. 12 session at the National Retail Federation's "Retail's Big Show - Chapter One" virtual expo.
“Our core Walmart customer is absolutely not immune to the economic slowdown, in fact may even be disproportionately affected,” Whiteside said, indicating that affordability in terms of both price of products and services will continue to play a major role with Walmart shoppers.
Whiteside said nearly half of Walmart customers surveyed in November indicated they were worried about the current health of the economy, and that they are stretching the budget with strategies like switching from national brands to private brands, buying smaller pack sizes and cherry-picking deals when they're available.
“Saving time and lifting that cognitive load for people is also at a premium. There’s so much to worry about for everybody ... so ways that we can lift the load by making it easier to do the things that you just have to do and do them safely is really important,” Whiteside said.
That includes services like pickup and delivery, contactless options and even improvements to in-store navigation that help shoppers find products faster — all efforts Walmart has been expanding. Whiteside pointed to Express Delivery as an example of a solution Walmart implemented for a need that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The store footprint allows us to be able to do that, you wouldn’t be able to get something from a fulfillment center to somebody’s doorstep in a matter of hours,” Whiteside said.
“Stores aren’t going anywhere and people are still craving that experiential component of going to a store. What we’re thinking about is what’s that next iteration of the in-store experience going to look like, when will people want to be in a store and how do we use our stores in order to help us become the go-to retailer.”
Whiteside expects that as shoppers have more options, bringing together multiple facets of people’s lives to help make decisions easier and giving them really personalized experiences by leveraging both physical and digital elements will become incredibly important.
“I’m going to need retailers to come to me, to come where I am. So this idea that everybody has to go to a place, you have to go to somebody’s site, I think is going to be different. We’re going to have to meet customers where they are when they want us to meet them,” Whiteside said.
In the next few years, Whiteside believes shoppers will become highly reliant on in-home delivery services, and that the next iteration of that is going to be auto replenishment powered by intelligent devices equipped with cameras, AI and/or machine learning. “The relief on cognitive load is so appealing, once you try it and it works, you get hooked,” Whiteside said. “I never actually have to think about milk because I know it’s always going to be in stock in my fridge, so I’ve forgotten about all the mundanity of the things I just need in order to be able to live my life. What I can now do is focus my retail behavior on inspiration and discovery.”
Yet no one knows yet exactly how the future will unfold, so most important will be having the ability to learn about customer and understand where they want to go, Whiteside said.