What Walmart Likes in Mobile

Walmart is the largest retailer in the world. And, just like other retailers, it faces challenges in mobile.

The challenge for a company as vast as Walmart is finding ways to be ahead of the curve without being too ahead. It can’t do too many pilot programs since Walmart is a scale business; it needs marketing at a big scale, too.

“The biggest challenge is that we can get very excited by novel technology,” said Walmart’s director of mobile strategy, David Shreni, at the MCommerce Summit in New York. “Being a first mover is important, but the challenge is that you could potentially move ahead of your customer. And so we struggle a lot internally with evaluating new technology.”

Here are four mobile technologies Walmart has set its sights on.

Wearable tech
Google Glass and the iWatch are two examples of wearable devices that Walmart is currently keeping a close eye on. Since both Google and Apple have made such a splash in the mobile industry, Shreni believes that Walmart customers would likely be adopters of these technologies, although it’s admittedly uncertain when the products aren’t available.

“There are a lot of open questions there,” Shreni said. “How will customers us it? What are the privacy issues? What role will these devices play from a retail perspective? We are a long way from answering these questions, but we’re still keeping a close eye on wearable devices and how we could one day marry them to the world around our customers.”

Mobile content
The beauty of mobile, according to Shreni, is that it provides a context for marketers to know what their customers are doing at a given time. What consumers are searching for on their mobile devices has been a big indicator of intent in real time. But Walmart sees an opportunity with reaching consumers before they’re ready to buy when they are just doing their research. Content can provide a very unique context for what consumers are looking to do, like remodel their kitchen or change the furniture in their bedroom.

“Branded editorial content is one example, and so is crowdsourcing,” Shreni said. “There are multiple ways to get data through content on mobile to make sure that what a customer is looking at on the phone is relevant.”

Responsive design
While some marketers have already implemented responsive design onto their websites to ensure customers have a superb experience regardless of the device they are using, Walmart is still in the consideration phase for this technology. According to Shreni, the company is currently evaluating whether responsive design is a fit for Walmart’s mobile strategy, which rests its laurels on an app for Android, iPhone and iPad.

“Responsive Web design is just one of a variety of technology you can use,” Shreni said. “The challenge with it is that is could or could not be the right technology for you. It really depends on the type of products or services you are providing. We are currently looking at it and evaluating whether it would work for the Walmart business model.”

Location services
Walmart’s mobile app has an in-store mode, which changes the app’s interface for customers based on whether they are in-store or not. But Shreni believes that there are more options for Walmart from a location standpoint, since not everyone who shops at Walmart has downloaded the retailer’s mobile app. Technology like geo-gating, for example, could help drive people into Walmart stores. Even apps like Foursquare could be an option.

“Location is really driving context,” Shreni said. “Our biggest mobile opportunity is connecting with store customers, and so we are constantly evaluating ways of using location to help our customers have a better shopping experience.”

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