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Digital strategy is behind Walmart’s impressive Q4 earnings

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Walmart, which remains the world’s largest department store chain, has reported impressive fourth-quarter 2019 financial results (announced on Tuesday, February 19, 2019).

Key to the success has been Walmart’s digital transformation, which is noted by CEO Doug McMillon:

“Progress on initiatives to accelerate growth, along with a favorable economic environment, helped us deliver strong comp sales and gain market share. We’re excited about the work we’re doing to reach customers in a more digitally-connected way. Our commitment to the customer is clear.”

Several leading experts in the retail space have provided analysis as to how this digital strategy was put together and where Walmart will focus its efforts next.

Making a success of online services

A proportion of Walmart’s success can be put down to its strong online presence, notes Michael Lagoni, CEO and founder of Stackline: “Walmart has been successfully executing its online-forward strategy, laying down aggressive e-commerce growth targets and making some savvy geographic expansions and acquisitions across key verticals, like specialty apparel and grocery.”

This model is set to pay further dividends, Lagoni predicts: “As Walmart continues to expand its digital footprint and adds new advertising and merchandising toolkits for brands, we see huge opportunities for accelerated revenue growth on the e-commerce side of the business.”

Challenging Amazon

The figures reported by Walmart signal that the chain remains robust and able to stand up to disruptors that only maintain an online presence. This is noted by Harry Chemko, CEO and co-founder of Elastic Path: “Walmart is the only retail giant that has enough competitive strengths to challenge Amazon’s e-commerce lead – they have the physical locations, strength in grocery and scale. They’ve been investing very heavily in e-commerce, and their year-over-year growth shows that it’s paying off.”

While Walmart is behind Amazon in terms of online sales it has the potential to become an even bigger player if is seeks to monetize the massive amount of data the company has on hand.

Digital transformation success

Digital transformation has played a key part in Walmart’s success, according to Eli Finkelshteyn, CEO and co-founder of Constructor.io. He tells Digital Journal: “Walmart’s recently released Q4 2018 earnings report validates the company’s emphasis and investment in technological innovation.”

The types of digital initiatives have included a focus on engaging with the customer: “Walmart and its subsidiaries have been putting a lot of effort into making online grocery shopping an easier, faster and more comfortable experience for their customers, and it shows based on grocery growth last quarter.”

Developing good technology challenges assumptions that customers are only interested in lower prices, as Finkelshteyn explains: “Repeated studies have shown that customers are willing to pay and buy more when the online customer experience is improved. At the same time, fewer customers become frustrated and leave without buying anything. We can see both Walmart and its subsidiaries like Jet.com making great strides here.”

Based on the recent success, Finkelshteyn predicts further customer-focused digital transformation initiatives from Walmart: “Going forward, we expect to see Walmart and other retailers will continue to improve their online customer experience as more and more grocery sales move from brick and mortar to online. This is a nascent, but growing market, and one where retailers will either innovate or lose.”

Tim Sandle
Author: Tim Sandle

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Retail

Inside Bed Bath & Beyond’s Digital Transformation

Digital wasn’t a priority for the retail chain — until COVID forced it to be.

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In April, as much of the world’s population retreated to their respective homes — and makeshift kitchen table workspaces — home goods retailer Bed Bath & Beyond had to get a digital strategy fast.

As reported then by The Motley Fool, the biggest question by the end of April — once digital demand and sales had increased — is whether the retailer could keep up the momentum that was thrust upon them by COVID. 

The before

A late-2019 leadership change was prompted by the chain’s lack of digital strategy, explained Motley Fool reporter Jennifer Saibil. New CEO Mark Tritton had his sights set on moving to a better omnichannel strategy. The 2019 holiday season was marred by inventory management problems, non-competitive pricing, and a lackluster use of should-be-standard-by-now features like online purchasing and in-store pick-up.

In May, with many locations still closed, the chain expanded fulfillment services, initiated contactless pickup, and expanded in-store pick-up to half of its locations. By the end of the month, they reported an 82% increase in online sales.

As Tritton explains:

“Digital growth was also favorably impacted by the way we pivoted our merchandising and marketing plans and how we engage with our customers, including more frequent updates through our website to stay current and relevant. A key highlight for us was the strong growth we saw in new customer acquisition through our digital channels. Nearly 40% of our online orders were placed by customers who are new to ordering online with us, and over 10% of them were also completely new to Bed Bath & Beyond.”

What’s next?

The chain announced on September 17 that they are expanding their relationship with Google Cloud — which began in 2017 — committing to a five-year agreement in an effort to realign with digital-first priorities to better serve customers. As described in the retailer’s press release, solutions deployed will help “to further personalize the shopping experience for customers, enhance fulfillment capacity, and optimize merchandise planning and demand forecasting.”

Google Cloud technologies they’ll leverage under this expanded partnership include BigQuery, Spanner, Google Compute Engine, and Google Kubernetes Engine, with Deloitte serving as a strategic transformation services partner.

“Retailers are sitting on an incredible amount of data today, but this data is often siloed and lacks real-time processing. And high-traffic events like Cyber Monday or the COVID-19 pandemic only put more stress on systems,” explains VP of Retail & Consumer at Google Cloud Carrie Tharp. “By migrating to Google Cloud, Bed Bath & Beyond expects to be able to reduce cost and drive business value through real-time analytics across marketing, merchandising, supply chain, and more.”

DX Journal Staff
Author: DX Journal Staff

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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What digital transformation looks like coming out of the pandemic

59% of executives surveyed say that COVID has created a motivation to accelerate their DX initiatives.

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COVID-19 has disrupted just about every faction of our world. So where and how does digital transformation (DX) fit into the picture now?

“Recalibrating investment priorities to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19 should continue to be the first priority of any company,” writes EY Canada partner Anthony Rjeily. “But pushing forward with your digital transformation program should still be a priority for the organization.”

Businesses face a wide variety of challenges — shifting customer engagement models online, enhancing digital capabilities of customer service, remote work, an increase cyberattacks and so on, and so forth. Rjeily says long-term successes will come from those driving innovation programs. 

Let’s look at two examples:

When COVID-19 first hit, the retail sector moved online at a near-breakneck speed to drive commerce online. It makes sense that it was easier for businesses with already-existing, scalable digital infrastructure to pivot to the pandemic realities. But as Ryan Talbott writes, this is the new norm for retailers. “A retail organization’s ability to react quickly to changes in consumer behavior has become a key survival skill. Regardless of how good their business contingency plans were, once the pandemic hit, many retailers found they were in a difficult spot and simply couldn’t move at the pace their customers needed them to.”

Within architecture, engineering, and construction industries, COVID-19 accelerated digital transformation plans but many companies still have a long road ahead. Industry experts predicted that 2020 would be a watershed moment for DX integration in these industries and this did, in fact, come to fruition. But going forward, James Dean, CEO of Sensat, says companies in these industries will need to “create a more holistic approach to the entire asset lifecycle, ensuring technology takes prime position in their approach, supporting revenue generation and ensuring continued business success,”

A focus on emerging technologies

According to a new report from KPMG International and HFS Research, 59% technology executives surveyed say that COVID-19 has created an impetus to accelerate digital transformation initiatives. The report, titled ‘Enterprise Reboot,’ found executives have shifted their focus to must-have technologies and more than half (56%) say cloud migration has become an absolute necessity due to COVID-19.

(Source: KPMG/HFS Research)

At the same time, COVID is also a caveat. Approximately four in 10 say they will halt investment in emerging technology altogether as a result of the pandemic. 

“This crisis isn’t affecting all industries equally, but for many of the industries facing crisis, managing the transition to a digital business model is imperative,” explains Cliff Justice, KPMG global lead for Intelligent Automation and US lead for Digital Capabilities. “However, doing so is made more complicated in a time where investments are critical, but cash must be preserved.”

(Source: KPMG/HFS Research)

 

Investment for business survival

“Emerging technologies and new ways of working can play a significant role in the transformation to a more digital economy,” said Justice. “These technologies are helping companies maintain customer and stakeholder trust, keep remote workforces connected, ensure their business is resilient and prepared for disruptions, and build a strong foundation for future product and service innovation.”

Ultimately, the pandemic has placed straight-up business survival as the primary objective for most emerging technology investments. 

“Now more than ever, companies need to make smart investments in emerging technologies if they are to prevail in the medium- to long-term,” said Justice. “Companies who don’t, risk threatening their own survival.”

DX Journal Staff
Author: DX Journal Staff

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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Retail

IoT + Data = Retail Intelligence

In the equation IoT + X = Intelligence, what role can consumer and supply chain data play as the X factor?

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Valued at USD $10 billion in 2017, the retail segment of the Internet of Things (IoT) market is expected to grow at a phenomenal 19% compounded annual rate and hit $35 billion in 2024. New ways of collecting data at the source are enabling this growth. IoT-embedded sensors on shelves and in refrigerators; store beacons that can sense and measure foot traffic; RFID tags on clothes and smartphones with Bluetooth technology are all collaborators in this dance to log and analyze data. Artificial intelligence can then analyze the sheer volumes of numbers generated and give retailers intelligence to increase efficiencies and sales.

The promise of IoT is that it can enable retailers to improve backend supply chain operations and the customer service experience. The following examples illustrate use cases of both.

Frictionless shopping

Amazon Go is a test case for effective use of RFID tags and store beacons to bypass the checkout process altogether. Every item on the shelves has an RFID tag and when the customer walks out of the store, the products he or she leaves with are scanned and billed to the corresponding Amazon account. The IoT at play here delivers more than a seamless customer experience: it also gives the retailer live status updates about inventory, intelligence that can be relayed up and down the supply chain.

An eye on perishables

IoT-embedded sensors in refrigerators can predict when the machine might be about to malfunction based on current temperature and humidity profiles. A similar IoT-driven system used in warehouses alerts vendors about potential spoilage and can prevent waste. While the edge use case of IoT in driving alerts in real-time is an important one, retailers can also extract long-term intelligence about inventory, store traffic and more simply by reading the data and looking for the corresponding patterns.

Interactive shopping experience

At a time when the drumbeats about the demise of brick-and-mortar stores are growing louder, IoT is injecting some much needed theatre into the customer service experience. Digital mirrors in fitting rooms read RFID tags on the garments customers bring in, pull up those items on the mirror and suggest complementary accessories. Customers can also push a button to request the outfits in a different size or colour. 

If a customer has signed on for notifications from a store, in-store beacons through the customer’s Bluetooth can deliver custom product recommendations through push notifications. Such live interactions increase the value of in-person shopping while also delivering intelligence about shopper behaviour.

While IoT dramatically improves backend efficiencies, the customer-retailer interaction can be much more complicated because of data privacy laws. Customers need to willingly opt in to receive notifications and trade data for the value that retailers deliver. 

IoT is already delivering valuable intelligence to retailers. A major grocery store, for example, saved millions by outfitting in-store refrigeration systems with IoT sensors. As the cost-value ratio of IoT devices decreases, expect retailers to leverage the power of IoT even more to deliver crucial intelligence about customer shopping behaviour and increase transparency in the supply chain.

DX Journal Staff
Author: DX Journal Staff

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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