Walmart Setting up R&D Centre in India for e-Commerce Innovations

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is setting up a research centre in India under its @WalmartLabs to develop its next generation of innovations that impact shopping behavior and global e-commerce business. These new innovations will help eliminate boundaries between brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce to give shoppers a seamless experience anywhere and on any device.

Disruptive changes

@WalmartLabs is a part of Walmart’s Global e-Commerce Division, and is the company’s hub for creating technologies and businesses in social and mobile commerce for global shoppers.

Anand Rajaraman, senior vice-president, global e-commerce, Walmart said:

“There are two fundamentally huge, disruptive changes that are happening. Smart phones and social media and those are the two areas we are addressing. The India team will be significant part of the team, the Walmart Labs mission is global and India team will developed for the this global market. The India team should have ownership of some really key pieces of the technology we are developing.”

The new venture will develop applications to provide customers with the exact location of a certain item in the company’s sprawling stores and detailed product comparisons — a feature typically found only on online shopping web sites. By doing so, Walmart plays catch-up with online retailer Amazon.

Wal-Mart has recently forayed into social media in its attempt to exploit the window into consumer tastes and preferences provided by social media outlets such as Facebook. The company joined hands with Facebook in October and launched My Local Walmart, a page that lets the retailer’s roughly nine million Facebook fans follow what is happening at stores in their neighborhoods.

Retail challenges

Walmart has advantages over Amazon, where it’s bricks and clicks business model can offer enriching cohesive experiences, where offline and online are being integrated.

But challenges are overarching, retail is under pressure. For instance, in the Netherlands, more and more space in shopping areas is empty, a less vibrant experience creates a vicious cycle. In this case as well, new technologies should give offline shopping a boost.

The Hoofdbedrijfschap Detailhandel (Dutch retail sector institute) in the Netherlands presented their research “The new way of shopping”. The research shows that mobile information, shoppers continuously connected on social networks and the location of the shoppers  offer new opportunities.

In order to achieve this, not only new technologies are needed but integral business processes as well, where offline and online are combined. Think of free WiFi or digital communications within stores.

Service and shopper experience

With the new way of shopping, service and experience become more important. Chairman of the HBD, Elrie Bakker said:

“You can use your phone to read a code in the window to see if a dress in your size is in stock, which can also be done when the store is closed. Or based on your shopping list you can create a route through the shopping area. Very useful in cities where you don’t know the way. Retailers can offer digital systems that offer savings, for instance to get parking costs refunded. There are many possibilities. ”

Screens

Just like the window of a shop can be an opportunity, so are in-store screens. A new in-store digital screen system, build by MTI, has built-in support to integrate social media.  The system can also be linked to the retailers’ own Internet operations.

MTI marketing director Helen Stonhill, said:

“Retailers who use social applications like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to communicate and interact with consumers on PCs and phones can now use [the Intuition ReAct digital-signage platform] to integrate those content feeds into interactive digital displays running right in store aisles.

A typical retail Website has a lot of secondary information about products that can be really valuable in helping shoppers make final buying decisions.”

Concept

Another aspect where innovation takes place is the store concept. A new marketing phenomenon is the ‘proposition store’. It is a temporarly store that only shows one collection that is made aware to the crowd. These –temporarly- proposition stores are welcomed by proporty owners because due to the recession, more buildings are empty.

Where do you think a pure online player like Amazon can innovate?

By Gianluigi Cuccureddu

About the author:


Gianluigi CuccuredduGianluigi Cuccureddu, contributing editor, is an experienced writer specializing in innovation, open business, new media and marketing. He is also Managing Partner of the 90:10 Group, a global Open Business consultancy, which helps clients open their activity directly and indirectly to external stakeholders through the use of social media, its data and technologies for the purpose of competitive advantages in marketing, service- and product innovation.

  • http://www.onedesk.com Catherine Constantinides

    Great post, Gianluigi.

    Looks like Walmart has the right idea. I was not aware of their partnership with Facebook. My Local Walmart sounds like an interesting way to enhance the customer experience and get customers interacting with the brand at every touch point.

    I learned something new today. Consider this article “tweeted”. ;)

    Best,

    Catherine Constantinides
    OneDesk Inc.
    http://www.onedesk.com

  • http://nl.linkedin.com/in/gianluigicuccureddu/ Gianluigi Cuccureddu SMP

    Thanks Catherine.

    The other way around as well. Today I read an article that the virtual shops/commerce will benefit from a brick-presence, in whatever -innovating- way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thinkshirish Shirish Subramanian

    Dear Gianluigi,

    There are multiple things that purely online retailers like Amazon need to look out for. Firstly, they need to have features that can combat players with an online-offline presence which can be mutually complementary (think interactive real-time twitter product review feeds in stores; or access to store maps and individual shopping maps online).

    People today buy via online retail, simply due to convenience issues and savings on travel. However, to enjoy a ‘shopping experience’ alone or with family, they always resort to offline retailing. Online retailers need to make the online shopping experience ‘fun’ in order to seriously compete with offline channels. Also, they need to figure out how to mine customer data, and build individual-centered personalized online portals online, so as to put every customer in their treasured comfort space, and this must be done as unobtrusively as Facebook!

    Also, retail MUST keep up with the shift from an information-centric web to a people-centric web. Online retail might just be shocked soon by a new wave of ‘f-commerce’ unleashed by Mr. Zuckerberg! Watch out for putting too much power in Facebook’s hands, methinks.

    I’d love to hear your opinions on this!

    Cheers
    Shirish Subramanian
    India

  • http://nl.linkedin.com/in/gianluigicuccureddu/ Gianluigi Cuccureddu SMP

    Hello Shirish,

    With regard to your first point, new technologies are able to blend offline and online, this will create a competitive advantage over pure onliners.
    Last year a new kind of mirror was developed that enabled clothing retailers to place them in fitting rooms. These mirrors were able to take shots and post them directly on consumer’s social networks.
    The purpose was asking real-time feedback, but also promoting the store and its products.

    People-centricity is key. Three things come to mind:
    “The brand is what consumers think it is.”

    Shiv Singh’s quote:
    “The purpose of a business is to breate a customer…who creates customers.”
    This is exactly in line with Keith Weed’s (Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer):”What struck me is the importance nowadays of having great products that can be peer reviewed. You can have great advertising but if you don’t have great products you
    can’t have someone out there sharing their personal experiences,” he
    said.”It has put a much greater emphasis on product quality and, in fact, product superiority in our overall marketing mix.”http://www.warc.com/LatestNews/News/Unilever_emphasises_quality.news?ID=29071The referal economy is a powerful one where real opinions on brand, products etc will make the difference. Incorporating the external stakeholders is a challenge for offline to intertwine them in the process.Another challenge for offliners (that can enhance the understanding by online) are the many touch points in Forrester’s Agile Commerce. From channels to touch points.http://nl.blog.ninety10group.com/agile-commerce-pushes-the-need-for-social-business-transformation/See the image where offline and online can be intertwined.

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