retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Around here, it pretty much is an article of faith that the big battle of the next few years is likely to be Amazon vs. Walmart. Call it the Clash of the Titans, if you will.

That doesn't mean that other big retailers won't be able to survive and thrive. It doesn't mean that independent and niche retailers won't be able to make an aggressive and successful case to shoppers. It just means that the Amazon-Walmart wars are likely to attract a lot of attention, soak up a lot of the oxygen in the room, and create a lot of collateral damage.

In Star Trek terms, this is like the Klingons vs. the Romulans.

Or maybe, to use another movie reference, it is Alien vs. Predator.

There have been a couple of stories the last few days that have elaborated on the coming conflagration ... dispatches from the battlefield, if you will.

Forbes had a piece suggesting that Walmart is looking for "out of the box" solutions when it comes to doing battle with Amazon. Its recent announcements about testing lockers in stores so that online shoppers can pick up ordered merchandise, and considering a delivery system that would have customers bring product to other customers, are both just symbols of a kind of new thinking at Walmart.

An excerpt from the story:

"The big box behemoth may not be a start-up, but it does try to think like one with its Walmart Labs division. That group is developing Pangaea, a global technology platform, scan and go apps that let shoppers buy in store via a smartphone, and online operations in growing markets outside the U.S. such as Brazil and China.

"Wal-Mart is still testing same-day delivery in four cities. The program uses stores as fulfillment centers and if expanded, could turn 4,000 stores into bases for same day delivery."

And Wired had a story that said, in part:

"Over the past year and a half or so, Walmart has gone on a tech hiring frenzy. Its e-commerce operation now employs about 1,500 people, and the company expects to hire hundreds more in the near future, most of them in Northern California. These days, Walmart battles the Googles and Facebooks of Silicon Valley for engineering talent and sometimes wins.

"Though these workers are a tiny fraction of Walmart’s more than 2 million employees, they represent the core of the company’s effort to stay relevant in the 21st century. And the way they plan to do it, at least according to the people in charge, is to act more like the startups that surround this California outpost of the global symbol of brick-and-mortar business success."

Hear the theme that is developing? Walmart is trying to think and act like a start-up...

Now, that's easier said than done. Walmart has plenty of legacy issues with which to grapple, and a culture that is biased toward protecting the traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing business, not disrupting it. In a battle with Amazon, which is built culturally on the notion of disruption, that could be a key difference. Hell, it could be the key difference.

But let the behemoths fight it out. For everybody else, the question has to be, how does a retailer stay relevant, aggressive and ambitious in an Amazon-Walmart world. In fact, how do they prevent it from becoming an Amazon-Walmart world?

It isn't going to be easy, and there is no short-term solution. It requires strategic planning, the ability to move fast and faster, and a willingness to be disruptive and make hamburger out of sacred cows.

The one thing you can't do as this battle develops is keep your head down and hope to survive.

I can't say it often enough:


That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: