Since the advent of e-commerce, traditional retailers have tried various ways to take advantage of new shopping methods while keeping the in-store experience growing. Walmart, one of the world’s largest retailers, always strives for a customer-first mindset. So the company has been working to deliver a broader omnichannel experience to customers.
We want our app to be more than just a shopping transaction.
I recently talked to Meng Chee, Walmart’s chief product officer, about the company’s attempt to create a “super app” that’s more than just a shopping experience — and how the pandemic accelerated this approach.
Calvo: How has your app strategy evolved due to COVID-19, with more consumers choosing to shop across digital platforms?
Chee: Before the pandemic, we were already changing our app strategy. Historically speaking, before 2019 we had two areas of businesses running separately: e-commerce and in-store. But in 2019, we made the decision to merge, and in 2020, we restructured our product organisation to be at the center, with the goal to deliver omnichannel experiences. That’s why, when the pandemic hit, it only accelerated our efforts to bring one app together. This acceleration has also helped us focus on our larger ambition to create a super app, meaning we want our app to be more than just a shopping transaction. Ultimately we want it to be a lifestyle app, because we’re growing our business, and adding health and wellness services, financial services, auto care, etc. All of this comes together and represents a lifestyle package that we can give our customers via a super app.
Calvo: I love that you’re talking about super apps. Can you give me an example of a nonshopping use for the app?
Chee: Absolutely. Many innovations happened in our app during the pandemic. For Walmart in particular, because of the prominence we have in many communities across the country, we created an online vaccine scheduler so customers could schedule their vaccinations at their local store. Quickly thereafter, we heard from customers that they wanted an easier way to manage their paper vaccine card. So we created a digital vaccine card that is accessible in their Walmart Pharmacy account.
Calvo: Creating this kind of app can be organisationally tricky. Can you talk to me about how you overcame organisational silos?
Chee: The customer is at the center of everything we do. We think there are three ways to address how to work through silos within a large organisation and create the apps that matter.
You need clear accountability. … You need a framework that an organisational structure agrees to use and use consistently.
First, you need the right organisational structure. In this case, part of that solution meant having a centralised product organisation so that we could prioritise and think about solutions holistically and consider what happens in-store, online, and in the app.
Second, you need a framework that really identifies the way you’re working. You need clear accountability. You can’t have every single silo with a vote. You need a framework that an organisational structure agrees to use and use consistently. This way, you make clean, clear decisions that are consistent for the customer, regardless of how they shop with us.
Finally, you need to create a model that enables executional agility. For example, we have a model that we like a lot called “four in a box.” The 4ITB team is composed of accountable leads from product, tech, design, and the business. The idea is that we work together on solving a problem for the customer in a collective, integrated way. This is how we overcome organisational complexity and develop a clear focus on what our app needs to do in a way that drives value for our customers.
Calvo: How does Walmart foster a seamless experience for its customers across web and app platforms?
Chee: We design with the customer journey in mind. We don’t look at app-versus-web experiences. While we have teams that are dedicated to each, we put the customer’s needs first. A customer might start on a web browser at home, because it’s convenient to shop for groceries, but then go to their phone on the go to add a few things before they pick up in-store. There’s so much that goes on, and we need to think about the customer journey holistically to help them make consistent decisions across platforms. The way you achieve that consistency is to thread it all the way across the product life cycle, and, in this case, multiple product life cycles.
Calvo: What are some innovations you’ve developed to personalise the experience, and how do you see that evolving?
Chee: Our core guiding promise to our customers is to help make their lives better. In order to do that, our personalisation has to work very well. There’s a lot to compete with in terms of head space as you look at your phone today, which is why personalisation is so key. We have to rapidly bring our brand and our value to the forefront of a customer’s attention span.
For example, we know customers enjoy using our app to shop for their weekly groceries for pickup at our store or delivery at home. To make it faster and easier to place pickup or delivery orders, we created a tab in the app called My Items. The My Items tab automatically organises customers’ preferred items into categories, like dairy and eggs, pantry, beauty, and more — like having a curated store to shop from within Walmart.
We design with the customer journey in mind. We don’t look at app-versus-web experiences.
Calvo: Does the app have an impact on the in-store experience?
Chee: Absolutely. The app and in-store experiences must be connected, because today’s customer shops across all our channels based on their schedules. It’s our responsibility to design an integrated experience that works for their needs, not the other way around.
Our stores are a competitive advantage, and they’ll always be a core shopping channel for our customer. But we also know that we can use technology to simplify the in-store shopping experience.
For example, we heard from our customers that they wanted better navigation to find where products are located in stores and easier ways to checkout. Over the last year, we’ve been rolling out a new design for Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets that includes things like updated exterior signage reflecting the Walmart app icon, updated in-store messaging system and signage to guide customers and associates to products using the app, and more hosted-checkout kiosks as well as contactless payment solutions, like Walmart Pay and Scan and Go.