Walmart’s Whiteside: Redefining The Consumer Relationship

Walmart’s Janey Whiteside, the retailer’s evp and first chief customer officer, said the year ahead continues its trend to make shopper lives easier, which means delivering core purchases to consumers as they need them and, so, gradually changing how they relate to retailers.

However, Whiteside said it is critically important to keep strict attention to consumers as they emerge from a coronavirus-woven cocoon and figure out how they want to proceed into a new kind of normal life.

A fresh Walmart announcement points in the direction Walmart is taking. Since it debuted its curbside delivery service, as related to HomeWorld Business at the time, Walmart has been trying to create a new relationship with consumers based on taking the weekly core grocery shopping trip out of their agenda and, so, winning back for them the two or three hours a week tied up in replenishing basic needs.

Now, Walmart has announced a test with a service called HomeValet that will begin this spring with consumers in Bentonville, AK that will place deliveries in a temperature-controlled HomeValet-powered smart box located outside customer homes. The deliveries will emerge from a local Walmart store and provide customers with secure, contactless service that offers the peace of mind that comes with knowing their groceries will stay fresh.

The HomeValet smart box incorporates an IoT platform that has three temperature-controlled zones, so it can properly store frozen, refrigerated and pantry items. At the scheduled delivery time, the smart box communicates with a delivery provider’s device, allowing access so the groceries can be secured.

As part of a seminar at the National Retail Federation Big Show’s virtual Chapter 1 this week, Whitesides said Walmart is developing a variety of means to give consumers back time they spend on the rudiments of shopping, including the company’s recently established service that will even stock customer refrigerators. She acknowledged that retailers have been looking to provide such direct services for decades, but she noted that consumers vary on just how much access they want to provide retailers to their personal lives.

Whiteside said it all comes down to trust in the retailer, the services provided and their advantages to each consumer. She said consumers vary wildly in reaction to the idea of someone coming into their homes and restocking their refrigerators, with some enthusiastic and others rejecting the idea outright. Still, times are changing, and a lot depends on how companies foster trust in consumers.

“It’s really interesting how quickly you can build that trust in customers,” she said. ‘Ten years ago, would you trust somebody to go pick your groceries for you? I would say to you, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, the notion that you would have in some kind of device in your phone that you’d click and a stranger would drive up on the side of the road and you’d trust them to give you a lift would be ridiculously extreme.”

Although the retailer has been rolling out to-refrigerator delivery, Walmart has adjusted its services to establish a range of approaches that has moved with the times and customer response, Whiteside said.

“It’s doorstep or garage mostly now given the pandemic,” Whiteside said. “But what we’re learning is, if you can establish that trust factor, for us that’s been through our brand and people understand our brand and getting to pick and know and get some information about the person who is coming into your home— they all wear body cams, you can watch them live or over time— if you can establish that level of trust, to be able to come home with milk, eggs, bread, veggies in your frig and the other items you wanted are on your counter is so appealing that, once you try it once and it works, you’re really seeing people getting hooked on the service.”

Whiteside said, the next step is auto replenishment with intelligent devices ensuring that no one has to think about milk because it always will be in the refrigerator.

“What I now can do is focus my retail behavior on inspiration and discovery, probably of products I never needed and probably don’t need, to be honest,” she said.

The World of Tomorrow

As such, Walmart is trying to once again fundamentally change consumer behavior just as Amazon began to do a generation ago. However, Amazon has never been able to dominate food shopping the way it has retailing in other categories.

Whiteside said that this is a time when people are thinking about getting back to normal as COVID-19 vaccines roll out, but they recognize at least on some level that normality itself has been reshaped. Even the idea of home delivery has morphed as the two-earner family with latchkey kids now, in many cases, used to sharing their days in the same dwelling both for work and play.

Normal has and will remain more diverse in its expression, which is something that Walmart is addressing with its various delivery options. Beyond grocery and basic goods, as Whiteside pointed out, the consumer will address non-basic needs shopping differently. In the past several years, shopping for housewares and home furnishings has changed from functional, as in purchasing for specific needs as they arise, to lifestyle, as in the case of outfitting a patio with furniture, a grill, a firepit, etc., to create new means of relaxing and entertaining at home. Future normality, abetted by retail innovation, would seem to depend even more on lifestyle and social dynamics.

“It’s interesting how many people, I’ve noticed recently, have talked about going back to normal but then said that not everything about normal was really that great,” Whiteside said. “So how do I redefine what normal is going to be? How do we leverage physical and digital to create really personalized experiences, to give the customer choice? I think this notion of choice when you have more options will be incredibly important. I’m going to need retailers to come to me where I am. This idea that everybody has to go to a place, that you have to go to a site, is going to be different.

 

:The bringing together of multiple facets of people’s lives to help make decisions easier is going to continue to be important,” Whiteside continuers. “Most important, I think, is making sure that we particularly really think of the customer as the North Star. How are we listening to, learning from and with the customers as they figure this out is going to be incredibly important: How do we grow with our customers?”