Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner on the Future of Stores, Supply Chain Evolution, and More
In a session on Monday during the National Retail Federation's (NRF) inaugural Retail Converge digital event, John Furner, president and CEO, Walmart U.S., discussed how investments in digital, store safety, staff, and the supply chain have helped the essential retailer thrive during an otherwise challenging period for so many retailers, as well as it position it for future success.
Furner was interviewed by Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, during a keynote session on the event's opening day. Here are several highlights from their conversation.
Walmart's Response to the Pandemic
"Values drove our response to the pandemic," noted Furner. "They're what we relied on to make quick decisions. We erred on the most conservative business decision to protect associate safety.
Furner went on to cite Walmart's investments in its people, in the form of higher wages, access to education, and personal mobile devices to help them do their jobs more effectively.
"We are as good as our associates are equipped to help our customers," he said.
The Critical Role of Store Associates
Furner noted that in-store associates, who worked throughout the pandemic, are essential to the basic necessities of the country. To keep essential workers safe to serve the public in a time of need, Walmart required mask wearing in the pandemic's early days. In addition, the retailer has followed CDC guidelines throughout the health crisis, particularly as it relates to the use of masks and social distancing. Lastly, while Furner acknowledged that getting a COVID vaccine is a personal decision, Walmart is committed to giving a platform for anyone that chooses to get a vaccine, including its employees.
Adapting to Consumer Behavior
While Furner indicated that it's too early to tell which consumer behaviors that we've seen during the past year-plus will stick long term, he did note that Walmart has seen a four-year acceleration in the company's e-commerce development. That acceleration has included a steady shift to buy online, pick up in-store and in-store to home delivery. He stressed that flexibility is needed within Walmart's store network, including stores frequently operating as distribution centers.
"We want to be flexible for the customer," said Furner. "When you don’t meet customer expectations and don’t change with them, those businesses tend to be unsuccessful."
'Loyalty in Retail is the Absence of Something Better'
Shay reminded Furner of this quote, which the latter heard in a board meeting and has adopted ever since.
"Once they’ve experienced something that takes out the friction, people will stick with those experiences," Furner noted.
Furner and the entire Walmart organization spend a lot of time thinking about where the customer and market are headed, with the goal of being the first to react. Doing so will enable the company to stay ahead of its many competitors.
Supply Chain Evolution in the Future
All retailers recognize the constraints on the global supply chain, particularly right now. Walmart has invested in the physical and dynamic nature of the supply chain, enabling the multichannel behaviors and experiences (e.g., BOPIS, ship-from-store) that have become commonplace during the pandemic.
"We need to be able to handle the complexity in the background," Furner noted.
With that in mind, Walmart had made $350 billion commitment to U.S. manufacturing over the next 10 years. The investment will help Walmart to be more dynamic within its supply chain and get to customers in a more flexible way.
Balancing Short-Term Needs vs. Long-Term Planning
Walmart is continually thinking about balancing being reactive in the short term vs. planning for the long term. However, as Furner noted, there were more short-term needs and challenges than you could put in a 24-hour day at the outset of the pandemic.
"Respect the past, manage the present, build for the future," advised Furner. "That's how I try to think about the future of Walmart. Our values and culture won’t change; we need to build on them for the future."
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