As Walmart surveys the retail landscape more than a year into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s only looking to pick up its pace.
At the National Retail Federation’s virtual conference Monday, Walmart U.S. chief executive officer John Furner told the retail lobby group’s head Matthew Shay that the retailer, which has more than doubled its e-commerce business in the last two years, is prioritizing faster deliveries. The retailer has previously reported that its e-commerce revenues rose 79 percent last year, and was up 37 percent in the first quarter of 2022.
“Just yesterday, a friend sent me a text from the city of Dallas and said, ‘I ordered something from walmart.com, and it showed up a few hours later at my doorstep, how’d you do that?’” Furner told Shay.
“Well, the team has spent a lot of time the last year thinking about..,the advantage of having forward-deployed inventory. So whether it’s keeping a customer in-stock on basics in their home, [it’s about] being able to act very quickly.
“And it all has to work on top of what is a great store network, where we have friendly associates in clean stores,” he added. “We’re going to be really flexible for the customer, and whatever the situation with the customer is, we think we can be flexible enough that we can be there, given any change in the environment.”
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Furner’s remarks reiterated the company’s moves over the past year to expand pick-up and delivery services and to roll out its Walmart+ subscription delivery service in September. In March, the retailer also dropped the $35 minimum threshold for its “Express delivery” orders, which Walmart has said it offers from 3,000 stores. Orders placed through the Express service can arrive as soon as within hours, and carry an additional $10 delivery charge.
Furner also highlighted the company’s pledge in March to invest some $350 million in U.S. manufacturing, a move that comes as U.S. retailers are reassessing their supply chains during a pandemic that stalled ports and led to inventory constraints.
Amid this push to expand its e-commerce business and fine-tune customer services as it competes with Amazon, Target and others for the e-commerce market, the retailer has also sought to acknowledge the role of store and warehouse workers in making those operations possible during a life-threatening crisis that has exposed front-line retail workers to the virus and to anti-mask customers flouting store rules on masking.
“There was certainly an enormous amount of strain put on those who were working, but they were very flexible, and we had to prioritize,” Furner said at the conference. “And the first thing we had to prioritize was listening: listening to fellow associates, and some that I knew and others knew who were in China.
“We were listening carefully to what they were going through and what they were doing, and everything from how they outfitted stores, how they stayed open and used pick up in ways they hadn’t before,” he said.
Walmart’s board however, did successfully persuade shareholders this month to vote against a proposal by longtime Walmart store associate Cynthia Murray, a member of the worker group United for Respect, who had proposed a pandemic workforce advisory council. The group had said that the council, which sought to assemble a group of hourly workers on it, would have given staff a formal and official platform to shape workforce policy issues that affect their safety and working conditions.
Walmart’s Furner indicated that he believed changes to ways of doing business after the pandemic would center more around deliveries, supply chain reinforcements and potentially more remote events and communications such as the NRF conference.
“It’s definitely been one of those years that has put us in a position where we’ll think of 2020 as some sort of point of inflection for all of us, personally [and] professionally,” Furner said at Monday’s conference.
“I would in some ways say it feels like we’re getting back to normal,” he added. “I think what we’re really heading to is a new normal, which will be a blend of what we were before the pandemic, and some of the things that we learned to do.”
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