Reflections Inspired by Walmart’s Annual Shareholders Meeting
I had the opportunity to take in Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting from a local’s perspective in Bentonville, Ark. last week. The festivities and subsequent headlines and news stories rustled up some thoughts and questions around the present and future of retail that I wanted to share.
If you aren’t familiar, the annual shareholders meeting is essentially a big festival, and an opportunity to outline annual progress reports and proposed plans for the coming year with pomp and circumstance that only the world’s largest company could pull off. It was a pleasure to see the small-town home of Walmart play host to thousands of international visitors and dozens of leading actors, musicians, and personalities.
Alongside musical performances by Rod Stewart and Mariah Carey, CEO Doug McMillon spoke to the future of the company, and a lot was made of what’s to come for the retail giant in e-commerce and enterprise retail tech. In the traditional retail sphere, it took Walmart about 50 years to establish itself as the biggest company on earth. Over several decades, it chased and overcame all other retailers to become Fortune 1. In about ten years, Amazon has chased and overcome everyone when it comes to e-commerce, including Walmart. SKUs sold on Amazon outpace Walmart.com by 30x (even after a 10x increase by Walmart – growing their sales from 1M to 10M SKUs – in the last 3 years).
At this point, it is a game of catch up. But, if anyone can do it, it’s Walmart. They reported $874M in online sales in 2014 and plan to invest $1B in technology and e-commerce in the next year. It’s not a stretch to believe that in a few years Walmart could be as big online as Amazon, and, for that matter, that someone could replace Amazon someday.
Amazon’s announcement two weeks ago of free same-day shipping was a huge development, but it’s not a full-on game changer. The general idea of retail has remained the same since the first trade made in human history. Since then, the invention of money, the creation of cities, the industrial revolution, and the internet have been the four major “disruptions” in the space.
It is impossible to know what the next step may be, which leaves Walmart no choice but to catch up. IoT, 3DP and endless customization will most likely all play a part. What else is coming around the bend that we can’t yet see?
Image Credit: Walmart Blog