Contact Us

Walmart Exec: Autonomous Vehicles, Quality Groceries And Digitization Are Retail's Future

If someone tells you technology is the future of retail, they are both right and wrong  at the same time, according to Walmart Executive Vice President and Chief Administration Officer JP Suarez. 

Suarez sat down with Weitzman Executive Chairman Herb Weitzman in Dallas this week to discuss the role technology and digitization will play in transforming megaretailers like Walmart.

Herb Weitzman with Walmart executive JP Suarez in Dallas.

Suarez said companies that fail to focus on collecting and leveraging customer data fast and efficiently enough to gain shoppers' attention will lose stamina in today's retail revolution, even if they make significant investments in technology.

Technology is only there to help retailers make better merchandising decisions in a more efficient manner, but retailers are still on the hook for finding the best ways to effectively engage customers with this data and to use the information effectively in specific retail settings, he said. 

Walmart itself is experimenting with different types of retail technologies from digital price tags, interactive tools that alert customers to a product's placement on store shelves, and systems that may offer dynamic price markdowns in the future to better predict when a customer will decide to buy a certain product. 

Product Curation Is Key Even For Bulk Sellers Like Walmart

Walmart, one of the world's most mega of megaretailers, made its name on price and quantity, but Suarez said even it will not survive the future on low price points alone.  

All retailers are now required to focus on skillfully curating the right products and determining the best displays or channels for getting those products in front of customers, whether that is online, through cellphones or in the stores themselves. 

"Curation is important, but curation has to be informed by the customer," Suarez said. "You have to have that understanding that this customer wants this item this way as opposed to [another customer] who might like it in a different size or in a different color."

Walmart believes all surviving retailers in the future will need three things to thrive: a quality grocery component, digital sales tools that offer convenience, and an infrastructure that supports autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing platforms. 

Walmart has already made the shift with grocery sales making up 56% of its total sales, Weitzman pointed out during his Q&A with Suarez.

"We believe that food-led groceries is the future of retail, and so if you are going to be food-led you have to be credible in the food space," Suarez said. "Over the past five years, we have invested in and remain committed to being a food-led, food-driven retailer with great quality, great sourcing and great merchandising in these categories."


Driverless Cars And Uber Are Walmart's Problem Too

Walmart is already experimenting with autonomous vehicles from a delivery and a store infrastructure standpoint, Suarez said.

If retailers don't focus on how to accommodate driverless car traffic or more ride-sharing vehicles in the future, they are falling behind, he said. 

"It will be a game-changer. Autonomous vehicles are going to change profoundly the way people shop, the way people work, the way people go out," Suarez said. "If you are not thinking about how you are going to handle all of the autonomous vehicles or Ubers that are dropping people off who are not driving themselves, then you are not thinking about where the customer is going."