Mike Mozart

Walmart Aims To Redefine Retail With Microsoft Partnership

Ian O'Donnell

COO & EVP of Business Development

25/07/2018

I have followed the activities of Walmart for several years now. On the surface the company appears to be an extremely traditional ‘big-box’ retailer, but they have been exploring and testing very innovative retail ideas for some time. This month Walmart announced a five-year partnership deal with Microsoft that aims to use digital transformation to completely redefine how one of the best-known retail brands in the world does business.

This is exciting news. Microsoft has matured over the past few years away from their reliance on the Windows and Office product range and is now a leading supplier of cloud services and innovation such as the Surface products. Partnering with Microsoft gives Walmart a real opportunity to tap into technology innovation that will help them to fight competition from brands such as Amazon. In turn, Microsoft can take their technology ideas and test them in a real retail environment with a guaranteed customer for their retail solutions – both companies stand to win from this partnership.

Naturally the announcement does not detail exactly what they plan to work on first, but investors and analysts have suggested that the deal will focus on cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, IoT, and connecting Walmart to smart homes.

In the past few years Walmart has tested many innovative omnichannel-focused ideas, such as self-scanning and predictive ordering, but having a partner with the strength of Microsoft could be a game changer for the entire retail industry. If Amazon and Walmart start redefining customer expectations of omnichannel retail then that has to have an effect on smaller retailers too.

One very interesting point about this deal is the focus demonstrated by the Walmart executives. It’s easy to say that better technology will improve the customer experience, but in their formal announcement Walmart said that their intention is to ‘boost shopping speed and empower Walmart associates.’

That’s a great strategy. Instead of talking about the technology or digital transformation they are focused on making life easier and faster for customers and empowering their own employees in a way that helps them to help the customer. This is exactly what all these technologies should be about – empowering the employee and customer.

Too many executives talk about digital transformation as a magic solution to the problems with their business. Introducing new technologies without a solid plan can actually make the systems and processes worse. By adopting this focus on the customer and employee it sounds like Walmart knows exactly what they want to achieve – and how they want to get there.

Let me know what you think about the Walmart and Microsoft partnership by leaving a comment here or get in touch direct via my LinkedIn.

Photo by Mike Mozart licensed under Creative Commons.

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