4 Fronts in Wal-Mart’s War With Amazon

Jackson Lewis, Associate Editor


BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart has been busy lately with high- and low-tech efforts to compete with Amazon.

“We will compete with technology, but win with people,” said CEO Doug McMillon at Wal-Mart’s recent shareholders meeting. “We will be people-led and tech-empowered.”

That’s one way to reassure employees worried about their jobs in a world of fast-changing tech, but it also has serious implications for Wal-Mart’s strategy in its retail war with Amazon.

As the e-commerce giant further encroaches on the world of brick-and-mortar with Amazon Go and AmazonFresh Pickup, Wal-Mart is answering with its own volley of initiatives that blur the lines between online and physical retail.

Click through for four tech-focused moves from Wal-Mart in response to Amazon’s competitive threat …

New vending machine in town

Wal-Mart Pickup

Wal-Mart is testing a 20-foot-by-80-foot self-serve kiosk in the parking lot of its Warr Acres, Okla., location, where customers can pick up grocery orders they’ve placed online. Customers must spend at least $30 in groceries to use the service, but there is no additional fee to pick up groceries from the kiosk. The online shopping list customers can browse includes more than 30,000 grocery items.

Once customers place their orders online, employees grab the items in question and pack them in bins and into the kiosk, which holds refrigerators and freezers inside to keep groceries fresh while they wait to be picked up. The kiosk is open 24/7, and customers are sent a code on their smartphone that lets them open the kiosk and retrieve their groceries.

See my associate

Wal-Mart  truck

Wal-Mart is offering its employees incentives to drop off packages at customers’ houses on their way home from work.

This move appears to be a win for everyone involved, including Wal-Mart’s supply chain, its associates and its customers. Ship-to-home orders can now be placed on trucks going to stores; employees have a new, voluntary way to earn extra income; and it makes the last mile of delivery more efficient for customers.

The service is being tested at two stores in New Jersey and one in northwest Arkansas. In an era of retail in which more shoppers avoid people as a way of making their shopping experience more efficient, Wal-Mart offers a service that offers a personal touch, in addition to efficiency.

Age of blockchain

Wal-Mart drone

Wal-Mart is tinkering with using blockchain technology to automate the logistics of delivery drones.

Blockchain might sound like the name of a supervillain, but it’s actually a distributed ledger of data. Instead of housing all of the information in one system, it spreads the data across a large collection of computers. This technology is a building block of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and is considered to be a more secure form of record keeping.

But what does it mean for Wal-Mart, and what does it have to do with drones? This technology can be used to authenticate the identity of a customer and track information about the package as it moves through the supply chain, such as location, handlers, delivery date, temperature and more.

The news of Wal-Mart’s blockchain technology patent broke when information on Amazon’s patent for a shipping label with a built-in parachute was spreading. It seems both companies are serious about drone delivery and are working toward making that future a reality in their own way.

In-store upgrades

Wal-Mart virtual reality headset

The training and work experience for Wal-Mart employees is getting a series of tech upgrades. The retailer released details of its plan to use virtual reality as a teaching tool during a recent tour of its Fayetteville, Ark., training academy. New employees will be able to practice handling a spill, accident or the rush of the holiday peak season without real-world consequences.

Wal-Mart is also introducing handheld devices to help employees manage inventory, locate products and assess a store’s overall performance. It’s also implementing new software that improves scheduling for employees and lets part-time workers more easily add shifts to their schedule.