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How Walmart tries to invent shopping in the shops to win Black Friday



Even as we make more and more online purchases, most retail is still in the real world – and no event underlines this fact better than Black Friday, the annual holiday shopping that does every Thanksgiving trade in the US consumed. According to Adobe Analytics, Black Friday generated sales of nearly $ 8 billion last year. It's still the best time of the year to get discounts on expensive electronics such as 4K TVs, video game consoles and laptops, while many new gadget categories like smart speakers and streaming set-top boxes are hoping for prizes, Restrict as Christmas gifts in the hope that they will be topped up.

However, with so many deals being made online as retailers blur the boundaries between Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday, there is a growing need to improve the in-store experience. Many retailers, facing fierce competition from Amazon's dominant e-commerce operation, are now turning to technology to encourage consumers to skip shipping delays and pick up an item at the store, or at least online first to order.

The online-offline mix of an event like Black Friday is best suited to leverage Walmart, the largest US box office retailer and one of the most demanding retail technology companies in the industry. Following the acquisition of Jet.com just over two years ago, Walmart has invested significant resources in creating a coherent online and offline operation of Hybrid that uses mobile apps, cloud computing, and extensive logistics and analysis software. To ensure that as many products can be sold on as many platforms as possible.

Retailing speaks of omnichannel experience and Walmart's future As a viable retailer, it's important to serve its customers where they want to shop at any time of day, especially at events such as Black Friday. On the horizon, of course, is Amazon, Walmart's largest retail competitor, and a company aggressively expanding into new territories that Walmart currently controls, such as grocery, pharmacy, and convenience stores.

Amazon generates only about 40 percent of Walmart's annual revenue of over $ 500 billion. The willingness and expertise of CEO Jeff Bezos to tap into new markets is driving every retailer from Walmart through CVS to Kroger looking for solutions to improve his business should Amazon likely continue to grow and expand. In particular, Walmart has teamed with a number of technology companies to improve its distribution network. It also began working closely with Microsoft to implement a comprehensive multi-year cloud computing agreement with Microsoft's Azure platform to enhance the online back-end and the many custom software elements that support its store, warehouse and data center business ,

Walmarts Jae Evans, the company's vice president for global engineering and operations, says an event like Black Friday is a true test of all the efforts he is making to improve his mobile, online and in-store infrastructure have undertaken. "We mimic this environment ̵

1; we call it stress testing – to see how customers come to the store and what they will do," Evans said in an interview with The Verge . "We do these tests pretty much, iterate, tune and tune. We do this in a cyclical way as we really try to find those bottlenecks. "

According to Evans, Walmart has a so-called Customer Reliability Center in the heart of Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale, California, which is staffed around the clock a day in shifts during an event like Black Friday. (The center is usually staffed around the clock, but usually with the help of overseas staff.) The ultimate goal is to make sure nothing goes horribly wrong, such as when Walmart's mobile app or website is in the middle of Black Friday. Rush crashes The POS systems in the branches have failed. According to Evans, the center is able to curb the situation and figure out how to best address it, whether it's a network logistics issue or a bottleneck in the customer's branches that can not check in or out.


A Walmart Customer Satisfaction Center in Sunnyvale, California is used to monitor all in-store and online operations during Black Friday.
Photo: Walmart

"There's a mix of things, we're trying to get our third-party apps out of the box," Evans says of the software tools used in Walmart's technology and operations. Due to the scale and scale of the deal – 4,700 stores and a sprawling website – "we need to develop our own tools," she adds. "It is not just the scale, but the rate of increase that we are experiencing in a short time. We have to have that level of elasticity. "

All this behind-the-scenes infrastructure is helping Walmart's increasingly complex in-store operation, a cornerstone of his ability to compete with Amazon and other big-box merchants. Increasingly, consumers are learning whether a particular product is available on the web site of a retailer in the store and are personally taking it off. Walmart, in part driven by this practice, saw e-commerce sales increase 43 percent year-on-year in its quarterly earnings last week.

In some cases, consumers find a product on one Web site and find that it does. In another store retailer cheaper available, a process called "webrooming." This is a reversal of the standard showrooming behavior that, according to Shopify, nearly 70 percent of US buyers said they would. Although many offers are available on Walmart's website and online shops of other retailers on Black Friday, some remain in business only.

To give consumers as many shopping opportunities as possible, says Evans, Walmart is trying something new this year: a personal cash register, like the kind you get in an Apple Store. It is officially called Checkout with Me and was launched in August as a pilot program for its outdoor lawn and garden facilities at some 350 sites in the United States. Evans has meanwhile expanded to include every Walmart Supercenter in the US – more than 3,000 locations – and will be central to Black Friday retail shopping.

Ultimately, it should help reduce the number of bottlenecks and cash points by having customers with only one or two items checked out by an employee in the corridor who runs specific software on a smartphone, much like Apple's retail approach, however, with full register and self checkout systems as alternatives for managing large volumes. It's also a cheaper alternative, at least in the meantime, to a more futuristic setup like the cash-free Amazon Go. (Walmart is reportedly working on its own version of the non-cash retail technology, and Sam's owned Walmart club has announced plans to open a cashier's shop in Texas to check out customers with a mobile app .)

Another strategy from Evans says Walmart's article finder is integrated with its main mobile application, which gives you an easy-to-recognize map of pins on which Black Friday products are physically available. In addition, Walmart now allows customers to return third-party products sold on Walmart.com to a physical store instead of having to deal with the reimbursement process online.

All this, Walmart hopes, will enhance the business experience and encourage more customers to leave their homes and make the physical journey tonight as Walmart stores open for Black Friday and the weekend. According to Evans, these preparations, new features and infrastructure investments are closely tied to the company's broader strategy of bringing online and offline commerce together. Ultimately, the company's success will depend on its mobile apps and the ability of its network infrastructure to manage Walmart.com and everything from food delivery to Walmart Pay's mobile payment service.

In particular, the delivery of food – more than half of Walmart's total revenue comes from food – is a particularly interesting learning experience for Walmart, providing information on how to sell holidays and other forms of shopping. Walmart expanded its food delivery service from 1,000 stores to more than 2,000 in one year. Only because he invested so much in technology, he could do it, says Evans. "That's the kind of volumes we talk about," she says. "The complexity and size really helped us to understand customer behavior."


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