The battle between Walmart and Amazon rages on, with Walmart making serious moves on the technology side to position themselves as a worth adversary. That said it’s important that Walmart doesn’t overlook the crucial responsibility of in-store experience for customers in this technological arms race. And they seem to be on top of it; in fact, Walmart is incorporating that technological edge into their customer service strategy.
In a recent article on Yahoo! Finance by Julia La Roche, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon explained what the retail worker of the future will look like and how technologies like AI are paving the way towards that reality. This perspective is another perfect example of technology is augmenting the effects of human interaction, as opposed to replacing it.
McMillon discussed how technologies like AI bear the burden for more mundane, tactical tasks (e.g. inventory, restocking, etc.) and allow human employees to focus on more strategic efforts that will move the needle for the company’s bottom line.
In-store retailers like Walmart has a distinct advantage over online retailers like Amazon: they have the ability to make an impression in person. By shifting employee focus towards higher level customer service, a memorable impression can be made that really sticks with the customer.
The browsing experience is a great example of this. When shopping on Amazon, customers either find what they’re looking for, something similar to it, or nothing at all. In an actual store, a customer can receive guidance from another human who might know a good alternative to recommend. When they aren’t bogged down by tactical hurdles, delivering that superior experience to customers is so much more realistic.
It’s also important to talk about regional tailoring, especially for big box stores like Walmart. McMillon said, “There’s only so much we can do from the home office to merchandise a store well. If you live in that community and work in that store, you know more about what you should be featuring and the actionality on an end cap than someone from Bentonville, Arkansas does. And so we’re letting them buy more inventory, select what the sell, have more skin in the game.” Customer data and AI technologies can further fuel that strategy for retailers.
This circles back to that constantly churning discussion of how robots are taking human jobs. McMillon disagrees. “The term that we started using inside the company is we want to be people-led and tech-empowered. And what we’re trying to say is that the humanity of Walmart matters, not the other way around.”
Retail Technology Insider will continue to keep tabs on important developments with big box retailers like Walmart and how they are creating a differentiated customer experience through the use of new retail technologies.