Bonus insights from the NRF Retail Leadership Series

Catching up with the CEOs of Walmart U.S. and Albertsons

The retail industry continues to weather the health and economic crisis, with optimism for a brighter road ahead in 2021.

NRF spent a good part of 2020 elevating critical learnings from seasoned leaders in the retail industry and beyond through the NRF Retail Leadership Series. These CEOs are successfully navigating rapidly evolving human and logistical challenges with profound and lasting impacts, finding ways to seamlessly blend consumer experience across all channels and keep their customers and workers safe. 

Although the Retail Leadership Series has wrapped for 2020, we caught up with a couple former guests to answer audience questions we didn’t have the chance to address during the live event.


John Furner, president and CEO, Walmart U.S.

Walmart is overhauling 200 stores into an airport-inspired layout, blending online and in-store experiences. What prompted this move, and how did the pandemic influence it?

So many of our customers use their phones as they shop, and that trend has only accelerated this year, with the desire to save time and have a contact-free checkout. The new store design leans into that — customers are encouraged to use our app for their entire shopping experience, and they’re rewarded for doing so.

From a data perspective, how do you expect Walmart+ to change what you know about customers and how to better serve to them? 

We launched Walmart+ to help our most frequent customers save even more time and more money, and experience all of the benefits we have to offer. We’ll be looking at how customers are using the program, and we’ll add benefits over time to serve them even better. 

How will Walmart continue developing its marketplace and how do you think about adding assortment? 

We have a lot of momentum right now with Marketplace. We saw triple-digit growth last quarter and we believe we have a lot of upside in front of us. The goal isn’t just to add assortment — it’s to make sure we’re adding items that complement our first-party items, while thoroughly vetting new sellers and providing a great customer experience on the site.

Exterior of Albertson's store

Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO, Albertsons Companies

How are you thinking about autonomous and contactless checkout to enhance shopping safety and improve store economics?

In the area of payments, we are driven by customer choice, and want to provide options for customers to pay in a safe and secure fashion while being mindful of keeping costs in line.

We have had tap-to-pay available in all our stores for some time, but recently introduced a contactless pay option in our loyalty app, which offers a seamless way for customers to enter their loyalty number for discounts and rewards and pay for their groceries from the convenience of their phone, without having to touch the PIN pad.

We also have One Touch Fuel available in all our fuel stations, where customers can identify themselves through their phone, activate the pump and pay without touching the PIN pads on the fuel dispensers. We are also on track to launch self-checkout in 481 stores this year, which will bring our total stores with self-checkout to over 1,600. There are other innovations that we are working on and piloting to continue to enhance the customer experience in the area of payments.

Within your leadership team and across the organization, what roles or functions do you find the most critical to allow for rapid adaptation to market conditions?  

I think our strength in adapting to what is going on in a market isn’t anyone’s role or function — it’s something our leaders handle very well. While there have been situations this year that called for a coordinated, cohesive strategy — like the Plexiglas installations and cleaning protocols — our local teams are the foundation of our stores being locally great.

Retail trends

Learn more about how retailers are evolving here.

They are connected to what is going on with their community. They always know best what is happening in their market areas and can react to serve their customers’ needs quickly. That said, when we saw increased demand for our ecommerce services across all of our market areas earlier this year, we knew we had a solution we could scale quickly with Drive Up & Go that would enable our stores to do more for their customers. 

Albertsons Companies recently introduced temperature-controlled lockers for item pickup. How did this idea come about and how do you plan to manage that going forward? 

Pick-up lockers aren’t particularly new but using them for grocery orders certainly is. When we rolled out delivery trucks several years ago, we ensured they had zones to keep foods at appropriate temperatures, and we knew the same technology would be critical for any sort of contactless pickup that we would want to offer customers.

We had the technology in our trucks, so we found a stationary option that would put more freedom in the customer’s hands to get their order at their convenience while maintaining product quality and freshness. We’re piloting these lockers in Chicago right now, and plan to expand it to the Bay Area. We will evaluate customer adoption and go from there.

Watch these conversations and more for more insights.

Related content

U.S. retailers announced nearly seven times as many store openings as closings in the first quarter of 2022
Store openings
Consumers are returning to stores as the pandemic eases.
Read more
Verizon Consumer Group’s omnichannel strategy to drive traffic and create demand
Customer experience
Retail Gets Real episode 268: Chief Operating Officer Krista Bourne on personalizing customer experience.
Read more
How companies can build strong and inclusive cultures
Inclusive company
Retail Gets Real episode 267: Kimberly Lee Minor on defining values and sharing experiences.
Read more