How Walmart is Working Towards Enabling Frictionless Customer Experience

It is all about designing great customer experiences, whether we do that in a physical environment through our stores or a digital environment.
How Walmart is Raising the Digital Acumen of Staff to Enable Frictionless Customer Experience
Casey Carl

Casey Carl joined Walmart in September 2020 as Executive Vice President, and Chief Omni Strategy and Operations Officer. He has previously led an investment company as well as worked 20 years for Target. 

In a Q&A session at Collision Conf, he answers questions pertaining to his experience and shares how Walmart is using technology to offer better customer experience.

Excerpts:
 
Having joined the company in 2020 and most of your work has been remote so far, so are you looking forward to joining the office or you have been to the office?
 
I have been in the office a few times, at least in the office in Arkansas, U.S. But mostly it has been all remote. My team is scattered throughout, not only in the U.S. but globally as well. We are very accustomed to working that way.
 
What measures has Walmart applied for ensuring safety at work?
 
The safety of our associates has always been of critical importance to us at Walmart. COVID-19 forced us to rethink as an organization, all our procedures, and policies in terms of how we open the store, the cleanliness of the store, the frequencies of those things, the safety measures we put in place in communications and training for all associates in our stores as well as our headquarter offices along with the prescreening daily checks that ensure safety you are required to come to the office, obviously, equivalent access to the healthcare testing, etc, all the necessary things required to stay safe and serve our customers.
 
How will robotics figure into your present or future brick-and-mortar and omnichannel strategies?
 
Robotics along with other new and emerging technologies will always have a role to play in terms of where we want to go from a customer experience as well as an operational perspective. For Robotics specifically, there are a lot of things that Robotics can help enable like automation through distribution centers and fulfillment centers, greater picking speed, accuracy, etc, so we will always marry what the technology enables, the capabilities it provides with the strategy and experience we want to go after. This is always going to be paramount as to how we make a better customer experience, how to make it more operational productive and if Robotics is the right answer for that then we will certainly look into it. We are always testing new technologies and innovations to see what we can do with us and how it can create value for our customers. 
 
What plan does Walmart have to improve the e-commerce site and customer service knowing there is so much competition in this phase now and the only way to win is the improved UX?
 
The designs of our website, digital platforms, and apps are done by putting the customers in the center and so right now our experience is one where there is too much friction in terms of customer experience so we will continue to work through that both in terms of investment of making of the platform itself as well as the capabilities whether that be search or design or product, etc. continue to build our digital acumen as an organization, digital talent, and how that manifest itself in terms of e-commerce experience. But if don’t look at e-commerce as a standalone thing, obviously, we are a partial autonomy channel retailer so we got to make sure that our e-commerce experience not only enables a great experience if somebody wants to just click and check out but also they want to pick up curb-side, deliver to their house, etc. We want to make sure we are building in freedom of optionality so that customers can shop however they want.
 
I heard the Walmart marketplace has incredible potential for sellers who want to retail their products online. What are some exciting things you are doing for Walmart sellers in the U.S and why should we choose Walmart over Amazon?
 
Marketplace organization does have tremendous potential. We have heard loud and clear from the sellers that are currently on the platform that they want to list more of their products with us as well as a lot of potential sellers want us to be successful, they want us to create a viably alternative for them not only in terms of what they can do but also in terms of digital experience and all the other services we bring like Walmart Fulfilment Services through Walmart Connect which is our marketing and media side things that helps them run their business more effectively. I think our sellers choose us because we are largely building a marketplace on the philosophy of transparency, trust, and designing that around sellers and customer experience. We are protecting our sellers' data, they were making great decisions on behalf of their business to ensure that we are setting them up for success. These are some of the things that are the core of our philosophy for building a marketplace and it deeply resonates with the seller community.
 
The pandemic has shown many supply chain interruptions, any comment on the supply chain risk management practice?
 
We operate in the global economy as well as the global supply chain so there certainly have been interruptions in kind of every facet of the supply chain. One of the benefits of not only our size and scale of Walmart but also the relationships and partnerships we have makes it easier to navigate these interruptions and ensures that we are building contingency plans in place and forecasting further for different facilities and manufacturers etc which makes them a greater line of the size that helps them that take more risk in terms of the position of inventory with us, etc. These are some of the things we are doing.
 
How are you utilizing Blockchain technology in your business?
 
Like Robotics, Blockchain is a technology that we are working through today and it is going to grow in terms of the importance and experiences that we build. We are building capabilities kind of within our technology organization today. We are looking at what all products we can build on top of this whether it is for financial services, etc. again we will try to marry strategically what we are trying to do. We will also look at what is going in the external marketplaces that link to the blockchain and again whatever will make sense to us strategically, we will continue to work towards it. 
 
What are your thoughts on the crypto space?
 
The crypto space is in the emerging phase and we will continue to monitor it. Nothing to announce in terms of our plans today but certainly, we will continue to watch in the future for the financial services sector and future of payment. We want to make sure that we continue to do right by our customers, find new investment opportunities to diversify our business model and we will continue to watch crypto.
 
Do you see Walmart as a tech company and how do you see the extended partnered ecosystem of Walmart and Microsoft?
 
Walmart is the first and foremost customer service company. We wear a lot of hats including employer, retailer, but I would say Walmart is a technology-enabled company. At our core, it is all about designing great customer experiences and whether we do that in a physical environment through our stores or a digital environment, etc., technology has a critical role to play. In terms of extended partnered ecosystem Walmart and Microsoft, have strong partners for years and years and we will continue to find new opportunities to drive and share values between the two companies whether it is the customer-facing side of business or technology side, we will continue to monitor that. 
 
How do you ensure that you are raising the digital acumen of your staff to enable frictionless customer experience as the customers shift in the way they interact with Walmart?
 
Digital acumen is very important, we truly need to understand where your customer is at and if we do understand that we’ll have the right acumen. What I speak to my leaders often about is that you are customers yourself, you shop our platforms through stores and online, you shop others as well and you need to continue to do more of that. You need to continue to monitor the emerging space in new technology and innovation and figure out how they can help bring new experiences and solutions for your business strategies. My role in the company is to continue to bring that external perspective, hopefully, be the tip of the sphere of the organization that says these are some of the things we see coming and here what it means strategically for us, here are some of the investments we should be going after, capabilities we should be building, and experiences we should be designing. We are continuing to invest in building that acumen, I mean that’s how we will be successful down the road. There is no endpoint to us, we are constantly evolving because our customers are evolving and we need to stay within the curve.
 
How are you thinking about driving digital media at Walmart?
 
We have a strong capability in media, we have got outstanding talent that we brought in have deep experience in this space. Again, driving customer experience is paramount to us along with helping our marketplace sellers drive their businesses which we have for customers as well. We continue to invest in those capabilities specifically, it has such a critical role to play in our strategic policies, so, we are super excited for digital media.
 
Seems like a partnership with Postmates and the other 3 PR partners is benefiting your customers. Is this something that will continue in the next few years or Walmart will have its own last-mile delivery?

 
In terms of last-mile delivery, it serves as a means to an end that we have for our customers and we will continue to figure out what are the right investments we need to make to continue to build our internal capabilities, the right partnerships with Postmates and others. We are going to enable the best customer experience that we provide giving them when they want, what they want with great speed, flexibility, and freedom of choice that they desire. I think that is the most critical thing that I continue to remind people. 
 
How can a Robotic or startup company work with Walmart as a startup attraction and existing clients?
 
Prior to joining Walmart, I did a lot of work with startup companies. I think with every startup the biggest thing I would say is that how are you differently creating value and what problems you are uniquely solving. Far too often I hear that ‘we are invading the space with this platform or capabilities, etc’ which is great but I want to know what problem you are solving - whether that is a customer-facing problem or operational problem, really identifying that and ensuring that your product on the platform you are building is addressing that. From there it becomes easier to have a conversation with Walmart. You can certainly reach out to me or my team.
 
In a world where automation is bound to affect millions of people where do you see the world evolving to a reality where automation will have a positive impact in terms of job creation?
 
You have seen over the last years that we as a collective community globally have to come together. Certainly, Walmart will have a larger role to play in furthering the society and we are employers to fantastic associates around the globe, so we want to make sure that we continue to make our brand and our experience that we have with them is always a great one. In terms of automation, it is emerging and I look at it in a way that what problem it is trying to solve and how it helps us in creating a better customer experience. We already have been using automation in our upstream distribution centers, etc. where it enables us to create a downstream impact for our associates to make it a better experience for them so they can better serve our customers. 
 
Did you have any mentors that were crucial to your success? If so, where did you meet them?
 
I had a lot of mentors throughout my career. I have the luxury of working for or working with the mentors during my time at Target. Some I met prior to my professional career while playing sports where they have guided me. I continue to tap into those resources even today. Many of them have retired now but I continue to call them for any kind of insights. But I also do a lot of mentoring myself, I truly believe there is a time and place for each relationship so sometimes the problems I’m trying to solve, my currently existing network is not equipped to solve but I think if you are curious and looking to learn, people will come out of there to help you. 
 
Livestream Shopping has been successful in the U.S, can you maybe explain what Livestream Shopping is also?
 
This is a new and emerging space in the U.S. and it has been going for quite some time in Asia market, so for those who have worked there knows that the customer over there are accustomed to it and they drive a lot of business from it. Livestream is a digital platform going live and actually having programming where customers can shop the content they are seeing live. We have done some activations with TikTok where we work with a bunch of influencers looking at Walmart products, they talk about the products or put an outfit together or why certain fabrics/ garments resonate with them, etc, customers have not only to see them but also shop directly. Livestream is nascent in the U.S but it will be a bigger part of shopping in the future so we will continue to look at the unique capabilities that it presents to shop Walmart products.
 
Are there any procurement targets for sustainable polymer fabric for Walmart?
 
Sustainability has been a huge part of Walmart's philosophy overall. It is another reason why I joined the organization. The importance of sustainability that Walmart has always been public about whether it is sourcing practice or mutual exceptions over vendors, suppliers, or the factories we work with, etc. We are looking at every facet of our ecosystem and how we can further up the sustainability efforts there. It is the right thing to do, it is good for business simultaneously. We do have a target in place for ourselves with the buyers we work with. 
 
With the new Walmart curbside delivery, how do you see the future of in-store shopping?
 
Pick-up has a vital role to play within our in-store experience and I’d say pick-up and curbside delivery because some customers are traditional and they want to shop in stores while some shop online and pick up from the store. Sometimes they are in hurry and sometimes they want to get it delivered to their home. So, pick-up is just one of the many ways that enable better customer experience, flexibility, and freedom of choice. But in terms of the future of in-store shopping, we need to continue to find ways to make it experiential because, in a world where things are a click away, we need to create moments and experiences that can only be unlocked with a physical environment so we will continue to find ways to do that experientially.
 
If you were to look into your crystal ball at what point do you see the U.S. going back to normal from a recap perspective?
 
If you have an extra crystal ball please send it my way, I need it especially for strategy. In terms of your question, I don’t push on any notion of returning to normal, we have created a new normal and more and more customers feel comfortable and look forward to going back to shop in person, in-store; we are definitely seeing that happening in terms of business data. But we also saw in the last 12 months a fundamental acceleration of customers' adoption of digital in terms of how they engage and shop with our brand both from content, media, as well as shopping perspective. To me, that helps to fast forward a few years down the road where we would have been in the current course of speed before COVID. So, I think going forward the future going to be about freedom of choice, flexibility, and our customers truly using all our channels sometimes simultaneously within the same shopping journey. To me, the normal will be giving customers however they want to shop with us. 
 
The thing you are most excited about over the next 12 months?
 
Well, I have been in the company for only 6 months so I’m excited about having another 12 months under my belt of experience. To me I think, again picking up from the last question, I do believe we are entering the next chapter of not only where retail is going but where customer experience can go and Walmart is going to be at the epicenter to define that because of the network of stores we have, fantastic associates, brands and products, the fact that there is a great price every day, and it is the brand that people love. So, I think putting all of these things together to create something new and magical is an unbelievable challenge and it gives such personal joy and passion as to what we can do. That’s what I am most excited about for 12 months and then another 12, and beyond.
 

Casey Carl
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