August 12, 2011, 3:30 PM

Shake-up at Walmart.com

The retail chain puts some e-commerce operations under the watch of store execs.

Lead Photo

Raul Vazquez is leaving the retail chain.

Two top e-commerce executives will leave Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the retailer will change the way it manages its global online retail operations as part of a major shakeup announced today.

The retail chain, No. 6 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, announced in a corporate memo that its e-commerce leaders in developed countries—this includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan—will now report directly to executives who oversee the store operations in those countries. Previously, e-commerce executives reported to vice chairman and head of global e-commerce Eduardo Castro-Wright.

The retailer says it made that move because shoppers want to be able to move easily between the big retail chain’s stores and web sites. “In these markets, our brands, as well as our bricks-and-mortar presence, [are] well-established, and our customer is demanding continuity between both channels, a seamless experience as she shops in her store and online, comparing prices, assortment and availability,” reads the memo.

In such markets as China, India and Latin America, the retailer’s global e-commerce unit, established in early 2010, will be “directly accountable” for e-commerce in those countries, according to the memo. “We have a tremendous opportunity and latitude to lead the way in creating a new retail experience for our customers in these markets because our brand and physical presence are still in their early growth stages,” the memo reads.

As part of the change, Wal-Mart will lose two leading e-commerce executives, Raul Vazquez and Steve Nave. Vazquez led the development markets group for the retailer’s global e-commerce team and was the former CEO of Walmart.com. Nave was senior vice president and general manager of Walmart.com. The retailer says both are leaving voluntarily.

The retail chain has named Joel Anderson president of Walmart.com, the retailer’s U.S. e-commerce operation. He joined Wal-Mart four years ago and has been serving as senior vice president for the northern Plains region. He reports to Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and CEO. Previously, Anderson worked as chief merchant for ToysRUs.com; Toys 'R' Us Inc. is No. 29 in the Top 500 Guide. He also lead the BabiesRUs.com business, Wal-Mart says.

The e-commerce changes come amid Wal-Mart's efforts to beef up its online capabilities. This spring, for instance, the retail chain announced the acquisition of Kosmix Corp., whose technology searches and analyzes online social data, such as Twitter posts, to personalize web content. Wal-Mart says the purchase will help the retailer develop its social and mobile commerce initiatives faster.

Wal-Mart’s move today is hardly surprising and reflects the retail chain’s practice of having executives do tours of duty in both e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar posts, says Jim Okamura, managing director of Chicago retail consulting firm Okamura Consulting. “Wal-Mart is really just applying the same kind of thinking on a global scale,” he says.

He says the closer relationship of the offline and online operations in developed markets will help Wal-Mart come to better pricing and merchandising decisions. “Wal-Mart now sees Amazon as one of its main competitors,” he says, “and Wal-Mart is getting smarter in how it can compete with the endless aisles of Amazon.”

While the moves could help Wal-Mart in its battle against Amazon, the retail chain for too long has treated its e-commerce operation almost as a stepchild, says Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm. "Wal-Mart has been lagging in e-commerce," he says, "but a simple moving around won’t change it. They need to devote the resources to e-commerce, make a commitment to it.”

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