Walmart Taps Mobile to 'Reinvent Capabilities With Mass Appeal'

Walmart may not be sending its competitors into panic mode just yet with an outwardly inventive approach to serving its customers on mobile, but the big-box retailer’s head of mobile and digital makes a strong case for methodical and measured steps that can add up to big changes over time.

“You have to create solutions that appeal to the many, instead of the few,” says Gibu Thomas, SVP of mobile and digital for Walmart. “You have to be comfortable with incremental improvements that change behavior instead of going for the home run,” he tells attendees at CTIA’s annual wireless trade show in Las Vegas. “When we strike that right balance, the impact for our customers is significant,” he adds. “The technologies you need to have a massive impact on customers are already mainstream.”

Walmart is using mobile to transform the entire retail shopping experience from pre-trip planning and shopping lists to the eventual shopping trip and checkout process. More than half of Walmart’s customers own smartphones today, and those who have downloaded the company’s mobile app spend an average of 40 percent more time in stores, according to Thomas.

“Our mobile strategy is as simple as it is audacious,” he says, explaining that “the vast majority of our customers don’t shop this way” today. “The true power of mobile is in reinventing capabilities with mass appeal,” he adds. “Our goal is to create shopping tools that become second nature to the customer.”

Walmart wants to make these leaps with its customers as they grow into the behavioral changes brought on by mobile together. And for most shoppers, the experience begins with a list. “Our research shows that over 90 percent of our customers come to our stores with a shopping list,” Thomas says. “We wanted it to be as frictionless for the customer to create a shopping list in the Walmart mobile app as it is creating a list with pen and paper.”

Customers who create their list on the app can be notified of the price and location of each item in any given store, but Thomas is excited to take things further. “The best shopping list is the one you don’t have to create, and that’s what we’re working on,” he says. He wants future iterations of the app to be able to recommend specific products that meet special dietary or budget restrictions.

Walmart’s mobile app also features a “store mode” that is activated when users enter one of the geo-fences that Walmart established around all 4,000 stores it owns across the country. Store mode features new products, a price checker, and digital versions of that store’s ads.

“We found that customers use mobile differently at home than when they’re in the store,” Thomas says. “When they’re in our stores, they’re very task focused” and “focused on saving time and saving money.”

Standing in a room full of wireless technology executives, Thomas says the ultimate measure of success in mobile shopping apps will be determined in customer value, not the inclusion of augmented reality or other “whizbang features.”

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