Over several years, Walmart has overhauled its digital strategy, moving from a focus on premium digital brands and experiences under former e-commerce head Marc Lore to building its digital capabilities around omnichannel shopping.
Omnichannel is where Walmart, with its store base covering most of the country’s population, has an advantage over e-commerce behemoth Amazon. The pandemic only accelerated Walmart’s transition to an omnichannel specialist, with curbside and store pickup sales booming amid the long months of social distancing.
So rather than splashy acquisitions — such as the massive deal for Jet.com, the website that Walmart would later shut down, and brands like Modcloth (which Walmart sold not long after buying) — Walmart has made quieter investments in its capabilities around omnichannel.
Brett Biggs, Walmart’s chief financial officer, said at a conference in March that “the businesses that we continue to grow, whether … pick up, delivery, the work we’re doing in in-home, it’s all of these different ways that customers can shop with us.”
Biggs went on to explain that Walmart wants to be the first retailer customers think of when it comes time to shop. “[B]ecause they know whether I want to go pick up with my car, I want to go in the store, I want to shop at home, I can do all that with one company, and we think we’re giving the customer that today,” Biggs said.
The Volt Systems deal can be seen in that light. Volt brands itself as a solution for navigating “a complex omnichannel universe,” with its software services tied to omnichannel engagement, vendor management and product tracking.
In its release announcing the deal, Walmart said that Volt “provides suppliers with enhanced on-demand visibility into merchandising resources,” and the tech company’s application “delivers current store-level data, actionable analytics, and shelf intelligence for suppliers to plan, forecast, and optimize product assortment.”
All of that is aimed at creating a seamless shopping experience across channels and reducing friction from out-of-stocks, according to Walmart.
Volt represents another incremental investment in Walmart’s underlying operational capabilities around omnichannel. Walmart’s other recent investments include new augmented reality shopping tools for customers.
On the backend of its omnichannel operations, Walmart has partnered with Symbotic to bring the latter’s automated supply chain technology to all of its regional distribution centers. (Walmart has also taken a stake in Symbotic.)
The retailer is also plotting new “next generation” fulfillment centers that use automated technology to streamline storage and retrieval of products.
At the store level, Walmart has created test stores to quickly test new omnichannel technologies and processes to speed up inventory movement to the sales floor and in-store pickup rates.