Walmart touts e-commerce moves at annual meeting

Neil Ashe, president and CEO of global e-commerce was clearly the most excitable person on stage Wednesday at Walmart’s 19th annual analysts' meeting. And for good reason.

Walmart created its global e-commerce group two years ago and Ashe joined the company back in January. Wednesday was his first opportunity to participate in the company’s annual analysts’ meeting and he made the most of it, slipping in a first ever reference to Walmart’s online revenues that now total $9 billion.

Ashe appeared giddy as he described how Walmart’s unique strengths – a global network of 10,000 stores, 200 million customers weekly and a commitment to building a next generation global technology platform – position the company to gain a disproportionate share of a worldwide e-commerce marketplace McKinsey & Co expects to reach $1.3 trillion by 2015.

"It is a fascinating opportunity that we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of," Ashe said, later adding that he is focused on "how do we do it differently and better than anyone in the world."

Of course, any of his predecessors could have said the same thing over the course of the past decade, but the big difference between then and now is Walmart has shown through its internal actions and acquisitions that it is serious about more aggressively pursuing the e-commerce opportunity. Accordingly, Ashe reeled of a list of recent initiatives and accomplishments in the area of e-commerce, multichannel and social media. He described Walmart’s 22 million Facebook fans and an innovative social media contest called "Get on the Shelf," that allowed Facebook fans to vote for products they wanted to see offered at Walmart. He talked about how the company is leveraging advanced analytics to glean new insights from Twitter and Facebook data streams.

The company’s @Walmartlabs innovation engine within the global e-commerce group built a new product search engine called Polaris that is improving the conversion rate of searches. A pay-with-cash feature was added that allows people to order online and have product delivered to their home after they pay at a local store. Originally intended as an offering for the unbanked, a surprising revelation has been that many of the transactions are completed in store with a credit card. And, the company is already operating successful and rapidly growing food delivery operations in the United Kingdom and Shanghai.

Perhaps the most intriguing development to date however is a pilot program involving same day delivery of popular products in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The program leverages Walmart stores in those markets by using them as fulfillment centers with UPS executing deliveries of orders placed before noon.

According to Ashe, with 4,000 points of contact throughout the U.S. the service is something Walmart is uniquely capable of executing and he described the company’s store network as the envy of the e-commerce world.

"Walmart is going to win in ecommerce by being Walmart," Ashe said.


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