How Walmart is pursuing omnichannel profitability?


As Walmart’s business model evolves, a focus on omnichannel strategy is the thread tying together its e-commerce business, fulfillment services, advertising and more, Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon said at Morgan Stanley’s Global Consumer & Retail Conference on Wednesday. 

Walmart hasn’t been shy about touting its omnichannel efforts and why catering to meet shoppers’ needs across in-store and online channels can boost profitability. 

“We’ve shared before — if people buy in-store and online with, they generally spend twice as much and they shop in-store more often,” McMillon said. The retailer giant is “very excited” about automation as it builds out its e-commerce fulfillment, McMillion added.

McMillon’s sit down with Morgan Stanley Analyst Simeon Gutman provided more details into the role automation plays, which fulfillment methods the retailer is relying on and how e-commerce connects to its alternative income streams and overall profits. 

High-tech supply chain

McMillon said his confidence in Walmart growing its top-and bottom-line growth is partly driven by the chance to improve productivity through automation, particularly with its supply chain. 

“There’s more in front of us to do with the supply chain in particular and we’re very excited about automation. And I think it’s going to really help our store associates and help us with productivity,” McMillon said.

He continued: “Specifically, what we’re seeing is — after a number of years of work — there are opportunities to use automated storage and retrieval systems in ambient distribution centers, food distribution centers, e-commerce fulfillment centers and eventually market fulfillment centers next to stores.”

Automation can create customized e-commerce orders for customers or as department- and store-specific pallets, McMillon said. In the U.S., the retailer already receives grocery products on pallets, which make freight handling easier. Now, the retailer wants to use that model for general merchandise and enable stocking from the pallet, he said. 

“It’s a different process, eliminating a lot of the hours that we invest in today in the back room of our stores,” he said.      

Walmart is turning to automation to not only boost productivity but also to help reduce labor costs. “One of the biggest costs that we have in our e-commerce businesses is for store-level wage investments to pick orders,” McMillon said. 

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