When Walmart announced plans to use its retail locations to fulfill online orders, online retailers and marketers broke into a collective game of word association. The word? Amazon.
Prior to breaking the news, Walmart was already one of the few companies that could compete with Amazon online. But after unveiling how it plans to do so -- by fulfilling online orders in its own stores -- Walmart became Amazon’s first serious threat.
Ironically, Walmart will fulfill these orders using Amazon's very own locker strategy in its stores. Walmart has the significant advantage of already having 10,000 retail locations. So, for Amazon, staying competitive will either require rolling out a slew of its own physical locations (which is a possibility considering its test store concept last year) or establishing partnerships with 3rd-party brick-and-mortar retailers. In the meantime, all Walmart has to do is boost its online game. Well -- and install the lockers.
What exactly would it take for Walmart to rise to ecommerce supremacy? A lot. But here’s a look at its two most crucial priorities, both of which it can accomplish by putting Big Data to work.
1. Walmart must transform itself into an invisible personal shopper to help customers navigate its inventory.
A massive product offering isn’t a new problem for Walmart, but as the race to fulfill orders guarantees quicker turnaround times and more convenience after placing the order, Walmart must control every thing it can before the order is placed to ensure it is actually placed through them. In this case, that means making sure customers can find what they’re looking for, quickly and easily. Or -- in the case that customers don’t know exactly what that is -- helping them figure it out with a fairly high degree of accuracy.
The good news is that this isn’t Walmart’s first rodeo. They know who their customers are, and they’ve got tons of data from past purchases and online behavior to inform their efforts. They’ve also got enough content to appeal to every person in the U.S. if they want to -- it’s just a question of surfacing the right content to the right people. Acting as an invisible personal shopper will require Walmart to master its use of this content and data in real-time -- as customers are browsing their online store.
This is different from standard product recommendations, which online shoppers have become accustomed to. It involves making use of both historical data and current data to predict what will shape a particular customer’s experience right now.
2. Create a streamlined and turnkey experience across touchpoints between online and offline visits.
Online customers will now be traveling to Walmart’s stores to pick up their orders, and will expect a consistent experience from the time of order to the time of pickup. Along the way, there are a number of touchpoints, including email, direct marketing, advertising, customer service, and so on.
Building on the idea of personalizing each individual’s online experience, Walmart can easily improve each subsequent experience -- something that may seem like it involves a significant level of complexity. But with the right infrastructure, it can be completely automated and dynamic.
The key to accomplishing this is putting visitor profiles at the heart of each cross-channel experience. In other words, Walmart can use the same model of targeting used online to inform which content each customer sees across all other channels. In the end, digital channels will match email marketing will match advertising will match direct mail will match messaging at the point of pick-up -- and so on.
Ultimately, Walmart’s rise to online dominance will put its mastery of big data to the test. Done well, it will become a go-to case study in turning an otherwise complicated shopping experience into one that feels quaint and easy.