retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Some highlights, culled from various news reports, from Walmart’s annual meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on the campus of the University of Arkansas, late last week:

• The company announced that over the next five years, it expects to grow at such a pace that it will create 500,000 jobs. The company also expects that it will go from serving 200 million customers a week today to serving one billion customers a week in the next 20 years, growth that CEO Mike Duke called an “achievable goal.”

• Duke said that the company has four priorities: become a truly global company, understand the business challenges that retailers will face and solve them, play an even bigger leadership role on social issue that matter to customers, and keep the company’s culture strong.

• Quoting the Bible, Duke said, “ "To whom much is given, much more is expected. I think that applies to Walmart. If we want the freedom to pursue our business goals around the world we must play an even bigger role in solving the social challenges around the world."

• "Future success is never guaranteed. Leadership is not an entitlement, especially in our business," Duke said.

• Duke also said that that the company’s US stores need to improve same-store sales, while Sam’s Club need to generate greater membership growth; while the global divisions also continue to grow.

• The company emphasized that it will be developing smaller store formats that will allow it to enter markets that previously have been closed to it, and that it needs to get better at creating a mobile shopping experience that translates its brick and mortar strengths to computers and smart phones.

• "We will win on price leadership and we will win big," Duke said, pledging to widen the price gap with the competition and to embark on a new era of “price transparency.”

The annual meeting was hosted by actor Jamie Foxx, with performances by Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey and "American Idol" winner Lee DeWyze.
KC's View:
The thing about Walmart that makes it confusing, at least to me, is that sometimes it seems so utterly capable of getting different things right and wrong all at the same time. For example, it appears to have the environmental issue nailed - both saying and doing all the right things. (BTW...could we put someone from Walmart logistics in charge of the Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup? Please?) And then it seems to get all the gender discrimination stuff wrong...or at least seems to be tone-deaf when it comes to appearances.

All of which probably means that just like every other organization, Walmart is both conflicted and imperfect. Go figure.

Still, if you had to lay odds, it’d be hard to bet against Walmart. I think that some of the most interesting stuff that Walmart is doing is on the hiring front, bringing in people like Brian Cornell and Shelley Broader, who have outside experience and, while respecting the culture, can give the place fresh energy and are unlikely to become drones.

If nothing else, Walmart remains a complex and fascinating behemoth, a company with enormous potential that is an unending source of drama and stories. Which is great for people like me.

The part of all this that I find most interesting is the reference to mobile and internet marketing. I remain steadfast in my belief that sooner rather than later, Walmart will offer online grocery shopping (almost certainly with store pickup), and that it will develop a robust mobile offering that could have great appeal to the next generation of consumers. This could end up being the big game-changer, over the long run...and retailers that do not develop long-term strategic plans capable of meeting such a challenge are playing a very dangerous game in which the ultimate penalty is obsolescence. Mark my words.

BTW...I would’ve paid real money to see Mike Duke make the following statement: “Walmart intends to create 500,000 jobs over the next five years...none of them, apparently, in the city of Chicago.”

Not that I’m on Walmart’s side in this fight, but it would have been fun to see him throw down the gauntlet in such an in-your-face way.