Digital transformation offers a lot of opportunities for retailers to save money, save time and improve the customer experience — but for established retailers, overhauling major supply chain and distribution processes also presents several logistical and potentially costly challenges. Joining Retail Gets Real from NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, Walmart’s Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King talks about the opportunities and challenges for the world’s largest retailer as it continues to transform its business.
The excitement of the changes taking place within Walmart and retail are evident when talking to King, as so much change is happening within every aspect of the business from back-end processes to customer experience innovation. “It’s just an exciting time to be in retail and technology,” King says. Enabling customers with technology that builds a stronger relationship is simply the element most visible to the customer. “There’s an amazing amount of technology that’s going on in the merchandising and supply chain side as well that people don’t see as much,” he says.
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One of the most important challenges for a company as large as Walmart is ensuring accurate inventory management in real time. King says that with the popularity of buy online, pick up in store options, especially for grocery, customers are no longer willing to accept anything less than 100 percent accuracy about what’s on the shelf. Walmart is meeting this challenge with everything from floor-scanning robots to machine learning capabilities that predict when and what items are going to go in or out of stock. As online grocery becomes more popular, staff members picking groceries for customers provide another checkpoint for what’s in stock, giving Walmart more opportunities to improve data accuracy.
“Everybody talks about ‘retail is detail.’ Technology can help that detail be even better,” King says.
Putting time, energy, resources and talent behind developing technology and integrating that with the core business practice is not just a competitive advantage for retailers. It’s a requirement, and one that Walmart embraces all the way to the top: King says Walmart hired 1,700 engineers in 2018 and plans to hire 2,000 in 2019.
As Walmart looks to the future, blockchain plays a significant role — especially with fresh produce — though King says machine learning is really going to be the star of the supply chain of the future. A company of Walmart’s size has a competitive advantage because not only does it have a massive amount of data, which is needed to train the machine, but it also has the expert humans necessary to reinforce good machine learning results.
Listen to the full episode to learn more about how Walmart is integrating technology into its supply and distribution chain, and what technology will shape the future of retail.
And to hear more from NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show, visit the show recap.