First Look: Walmart’s tech incubator has a sleek, industrial feel
Walmart upped the cool factor when designing its first-ever technology incubator.
The lab, called Walmart Tech ATX , is located in a renovated warehouse in Austin, Texas, considered a hotbed of tech talent. The building, houses tech professionals from both Walmart and Microsoft, with the team focused heavily on the development of emerging predictive technologies.
The building carries the sleek, industrial feel of its former warehouse design, the original location of the Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. The space also features a mural by local artist Mike “Truth” Johnston. The mural design blends the heritage of both Walmart and the city of Austin, with iconic images like Sam Walton’s red pickup truck, the Austin skyline and the Alamo Drafthouse.
The space is decorated with an eclectic color palette and furniture from Walmart’s online store as well as its online brands, Hayneedle and Jet.com. The office features high desks and chairs, as well as pockets of seating space for different teams, creating a warm, comfortable environment resembling a living room rather than a traditional office.
The designer behind the vision is Katey Barron, director, IT program management at Walmart Technology. Barron joined the discount giant in 2012, as a temporary worker in Walmart’s then-new Innovation Lab. (This concept has since evolved into Walmart’s tech incubator Store No. 8.) At the time, she was responsible for company leadership tours of the futuristic technologies that could help empower associates and make different areas of the business more efficient, like machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Over time, Barron realized she had an interest in the startups that were presenting their technologies to Walmart, experience that earned her a position helping to renovate Walmart’s David Glass Technology Center, and design Exchange, a co-working space for select startups in Bentonville, as well as Walmart Tech ATX.
“My passion for design comes from wanting to serve startups and give them what they need – and really, I’ve just always loved furniture,” Barron said. “At Walmart Tech, these associates genuinely enjoy being around each other and diving into the work they do. We wanted to make it a space they could be comfortable in, proud of and enjoy coming to work every day.”
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Teen apparel retailer ‘gets schooled’ on predictive analytics
Rue 21 made a strategic decision to ensure it could get the biggest return on its predictive analytics investment.
To accurately complete the adoption of predictive analytic technology across the company, Rue 21 used Action Learning, a core methodology used by the University of Liverpool. Action Learning is an experience-based and action-oriented approach to organizational learning.
The organization worked with First Insight to adopt consumer-driven predictive analytics when making design, buying, planning and pricing decisions across its apparel, footwear and accessories categories. These decisions were based on customer sentiment. To ensure the company stayed on the right path, the organization implemented action learning with executives, merchandising teams and planning and inventory teams, a move that Rue21 fully adopt the solution within three months.
The program was championed by Mark Chrystal, the company’s chief analytics officer, and a graduate of the University of Liverpool’s Doctorate in Business Administration program. He studied the learning process while attending Liverpool University.
“Too often organizations take a top-down approach when trying to integrate new solutions into the company,” Chrystal said.
“Action learning empowered the merchandising team at Rue21 and has given a voice to every individual, no matter the level,” he added. “Organizational adoption of the First Insight technology and its incorporation into our business processes has been instrumental in improving our business performance.”
Since adding the solution, Rue21 is evaluating a greater number of products, and reflecting direct consumer input in their buying decisions. “We have already seen margin improvements of up to 600 basis points on the products we have processed through the First Insight platform,” he added.
Rue21 currently operates 752 stores in 45 states.
Manual intervention is hindering the customer experience
By failing to automate pricing and replenishment processes, brick-and-mortar retailers are failing to improve the customer experience.
This was according to data from Blue Yonder, a JDA company, which pointed out that 96% of retailers rely on manual processes for their pricing and replenishment strategies, despite near universal recognition of the benefits that greater automation could bring.
Relying solely on manual intervention to execute critical processes, such as pricing and replenishment, retailers subject themselves to inaccuracies, like not having the right products available or priced at a sub-optimal level, resulting in lost sales. The good news is retailers are ready for a change.
A majority (90%) of companies plan to increase or maintain their physical store presence, as well as innovation. On average, retailers plan to invest 36% of their IT budgets in new technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI) to meet the demands of customers and prepare for the future of retail.
Half of companies (53%) openly admit that there is room for improvement in their replenishment process, while 54% said the same for their pricing strategy. For example, 58% of retailers reported that automated replenishment would generate a better customer experience, and 56% said that automated pricing would result in improved profits.
Intelligent technologies, such as automation and AI, can not only provide insight on pricing and forecast stock levels, they can deliver better replenishment and pricing decisions to retailers. AI solutions can also analyze vast quantities of data to completely automate these processes and eliminate the burden of manual intervention, enabling retailers to devote more of their resources to improving the customer experience, according to the report.
“It is clear that retailers recognize the benefits that automation can bring to their businesses, but perhaps most significant is the agility it gives them to compete with their e-commerce rivals,” said Uwe Weiss, CEO of Blue Yonder.
“Online retailers have been able to make small and regular adjustments to their pricing for years, instantly reacting to consumer demand and trends to keep their prices optimized and maximize sales, while brick-and-mortar retailers have been trying to manage with manually-operated, outdated and static pricing strategies,” Weiss added. “However, with automated pricing solutions, retailers finally have the flexibility and agility to optimize their prices in their physical estate, delivering a better experience for customers and enabling them to compete more effectively with their online rivals.”