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Walmart, The Empire Strikes Back Through Unified Retail Commerce

By Robert Hetu | February 23, 2019 | 0 Comments

Technology and Emerging TrendsRetail Trends

Walmart may have been a sleeping giant, but it finally woke up. Its reported 4Q18 sales revenue was $138.8B with 4.3% comp store sales growth, and 43% ecommerce growth.  By embracing its core strengths, investing in its stores and people, Walmart added new services and technologies that demonstrate the power of unified retail commerce.

In October 2015 my frustration with financial analysts boiled over in a blog I titled Walmart Stock Tanks – Give Me A Break.   In the post I predicted that Walmart was making the right investments and would succeed using a powerful combination of digital and physical:

“Its been rather obvious for a while now that there are a few cracks in the Walmart armor but I would not underestimate what this venerable company can do. I have wondered for years why it let Amazon grow when long ago it could have squashed it but here we are. Too late to obliterate the competition but certainly much room to set itself up for the future with the right investment strategy.  Retailers must become technology companies to compete in the digital future. Not smart to bet against Walmart. More than 90% of US retail sales continue to occur in store. When it comes to the future of retailing the right mix of ecommerce and physical presence will be far superior to a pure play ecommerce presence. Walmart will do it right, surely others will.” 

Unified Retail Commerce

With the future state of retail still evolving its important that organizations use their core strengths as a foundation of a robust unified retail commerce approach. Gartner recommends departing from the channel to customer view in favor of a unified approach that places the customer in the center of all retail processes.

Competitive advantage in the retail marketplace depends on near flawless execution of customer-facing processes that increasingly span an ecosystem of partners.

Unified retail commerce first involves understanding how customers use technology in their everyday lives, then deploying technology that makes their lives simpler, better, easier and safer. Collaboration within the parts of the enterprise, as well as between other retailers, suppliers, third-party services and customers, will transform retailers’ ability to deliver exceptional customer-centric experiences. Instead of managing the business through channels that reach out to the customer, retailers must start with customer requirements and organize operations around four major customer processes. The intersection of these customer processes is the focal point of a customer-centric experience:

  • Browse — Enables customers to find what they need, as well as discover new and different products and services that will enhance their lifestyles. This is provided by stores and online channels, as well as mobile, social, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality working together to deliver an immersive shopping experience.
  • Transact — Enables a seamless capability for the customer to transact within and across channels, regardless of the product or the combination of products and services, without inconvenience or delays. This is provided through modern, interconnected point of sale (POS) applications, mobile applications and the excellent customer-facing execution of processes.
  • Acquire — Enables the customer to acquire goods and services using a variety of methods, including physical shopping, click and collect, in-home delivery, automated replenishment and lockers, as well as partnerships with external organizations. This is provided by executing highly flexible fulfillment models, including traditional, in-store shopping; and many last-mile delivery options.
  • Consume — Enables customers’ enjoyment and enhances their consumption experience. This is provided through enhanced information and services, connected devices, autoreplenishment, and voice-enabled interactions.

To provide customer-centric experiences, retailers must have an in-depth knowledge of customer expectations. Today’s retail landscape is replete with retailers that have lost touch with their customer base. Many have floundered or failed to survive, while the winners have developed real differentiation strategies based on understanding customer behavior.


The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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