Walmart plans to put emphasis on excellence to compete in changing retail environment

Herb Weizman talks with JP Suarez of Walmart

Walmart is big, in terms of the company’s market influence as well as its more than 5,200 individual stores. An average Walmart Supercenter spans 187,000 square feet and employs 350 or more associates and offers 142,000 different items.

But being big comes with its own sets of problems. With any operation so immense, keeping track of details – large and small – is a challenge in itself.

And add to that: ecommerce increasingly gaining steam and competitor Amazon’s continued push for supremacy year after year. The legacy retail giant is at somewhat of a crossroads now.

Many customers have long noted that shopping at Walmart sometimes becomes a disjointed experience – from standing in long lines for checkout to difficulties in finding the right items.

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As it turns out, even Walmart knows how much of a hassle it can be for the customers, as JP Suarez, Chief Administration Officer, Executive Vice President and Regional CEO of Walmart International, revealed during a candid conversation with Weitzman’s executive chairman Herbert Weitzman on Jan. 7.

“When we opened the Supercenter, we used to say that we’re great on price, great on assortment and good enough on everything else,” Suarez said. “Yeah, you’d have to wait in line, a little bit ugly store, maybe little bit disheveled, maybe the associates weren’t so nice. But that was good enough.”

Suarez made the remarks while speaking at the Weitzman Annual Forecast held at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

Suarez admitted that “good enough” is simply not good enough anymore in retail. To succeed, the company needs to be “great in everything,” he said.

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So, all the focus is leaning towards customer convenience and convergence. Walmart has already made significant changes to how it does business in recent years and newer strategies and features are on the pipeline.

The changes initially started with Greg Foran, the outgoing president and CEO of Walmart U.S. who took over the reins in 2014; and CEO Mike Duke, who joined a year later.

Five years ago, Walmart made a $2.7 billion investment in its U.S. workforce that included new training programs. The retailer opened hundreds of training facilities across the country to provide hands-on training to its associates.

“Greg [Foran] said ‘if we’re going to survive, we got to get better. We got to be unafraid to tell ourselves that we’re not really very good at some of these things, even if we were a $400 billion company at that time,'” Suarez said.

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Walmart also started gaining credibility as a provider of fresh produce, along with soft goods. “Fresh [produce] is the future of retail in my view,” Suarez said.

Grocery sales accounted for 56% of Walmart’s total U.S. revenue, according to its third-quarter earnings report.

Walmart also went digital after that. It rolled out online grocery pickup, same-day grocery delivery, self-checkout kiosk and “check out with me” concept.

The digital platforms had to undergo several tweaks before it could make any real impact.

When Walmart first started offering online ordering for pickup, 15% of the customers abandoned the pickup after coming into the store because it was too time-consuming. The average wait time for pickup was 22 minutes.

About 1,700 stores now have pickup towers – the in-store tall, orange lockers that have orders ready inside for customers to grab – reduced the wait time to 11 seconds.

Walmart is working to digitalize its services as much as it can, Suarez said.

The retailer is piloting in two markets a new online subscription service where a Walmart associate will deliver customers’ grocery orders all the way to their refrigerators. The associates will have cameras attached to them that enable homeowners to watch and make sure the order got completed properly.

Also currently being tested is electronic shelve labels, which connected to customers’ electronic devices will activate when near an item on their online shopping cart.

Some of its other plans include automated floor cleaning and robots unpacking and sorting out items in warehouses and in stores.

Last summer in Japan, Walmart delivered groceries to an island resort via an unmanned drone.

“We want to give customers their time back so that they can go do the things that they love to do,” Suarez said. “Be that being with family, friends or whatever.”

Alongside convenience, the retailer also wants to engage customers with various social experiences and services, Suarez said.

On the works is a plan to start offering veterinarian services inside Walmart stores. And pretty soon many stores may even open beer gardens and wine tasting.

Considering what’s in store, Walmart could tighten its grip in the retailing market more ven in the digital age.

About 240 million customers a week currently visit Walmart stores across the U.S. There are more than 590 Walmart stores in Texas alone.

Walmart has announced it will be investing almost $150 million in the next few years to remodel and renovate stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

“Dallas-Fort Worth is a hugely important market for us, we do extremely well here,” Suarez said.

He added: “We’ll continue to make those investments, we’ll continue to work on improving the stores.”

One of those investments is in offering veterinary services. Essentials PetCare has opened three new walk-in veterinary clinics within the Dallas-Fort Worth area, designed to offer more convenient access to affordable primary pet care services.

Similar to other Essentials PetCare clinics, the new locations are each conveniently located at the following Walmart store locations:

• Cross Roads – 11700 US Hwy 380, Cross Roads, Texas 76227

• Fort Worth – 5336 Golden Triangle Blvd., Fort Worth, Texas 76244

• Weatherford – 1836 S Main St., Weatherford, Texas 76086

Services include routine vaccinations, labwork, and exams for minor illnesses, including ear infections, common skin conditions and urinary issues.