June 6, 2012, 3:01 PM

IRCE 2012 Report: The retailing game has changed

Walmart.com’s Joel Anderson says retailers have to adapt to customers who demand more.

Lead Photo

Joel Anderson

E-commerce is getting harder to define as the lines blur between in-store and online retailing, said Joel Anderson, president and CEO of Walmart.com U.S., today during a featured address at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012.

E-commerce used to be relatively straightforward—a shopper would buy on a web site, then the retailer would ship it to her home. But now, for shoppers buying online at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, there are a slew of options for consumers, including buy online, ship to a physical store; buy online in a store, ship to home; buy on a mobile device, ship to a store or to a home; and even buy online, pay in cash at a Wal-Mart store.

“Digital transactions are growing and they’re growing fast,” he said. And with the sharp rise in e-commerce, retailers have to adapt to consumers’ demands, he said.

Take Walmart.com’s April launch of a cash payment option. A consumer who elects to pay with cash can select “Cash” as his payment option during the checkout process. Then he prints out an order confirmation page, which he then has to bring to a Wal-Mart store within 48 hours. After the consumer makes the cash payment, Wal-Mart processes the online order.

Launched less than two months ago, the option already accounts for 2% of all of the retailer’s online transactions, said Anderson. The option appealed to Wal-Mart’s customer base—some of whom don’t have access to credit, others who are concerned about identity theft. Because of the new payment option, Walmart.com has attracted new online customers as nearly 30% of those who have chosen the “cash” payment option are new to the site.

Shoppers are also increasingly focused on convenience, said Anderson. In a video, the retailer presented a vision of the tools that Wal-Mart aims to offer shoppers by 2014. They include a voice-command feature that recognizes a consumer’s voice, an event planner that makes suggestions of products that might fit a party with a particular theme and a digital wallet.

Wal-Mart last week launched some of those futuristic innovations, which include an “In-Store Mode” for its mobile app that tells store shoppers the aisle where they can find each item on their shopping list.  As a customer adds an item to her mobile shopping list, she will see the aisle where she’ll find the product.  Shoppers can also scan QR codes for offers and discounts and for access to local ads and general store information.

Wal-Mart is also testing an “endless aisle” in about 100 stores in which retailer posts signs featuring QR codes that, when scanned using the Wal-Mart app, offers a consumer a broader selection of products. The shopper can then click to buy the item and have it shipped to her home or a store. “The customer demands that we offer this type of service,” he said.

The world’s largest retailer is testing other ways to take advantage of the growing number consumers carrying smartphones. For instance, it is testing the effects of posting signs that encourage shoppers to text a number for the local store to seek assistance, and a store-specific hashtag to share her experience—regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Any word that starts with a pound sign (#) is a hashtag, which becomes a clickable link to all other mentions of that word and shows up in search results when other Twitter users search for the term.

“At Wal-Mart our vision is simple—make it easy for people to buy anytime and anywhere,” he said.

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