VP: For Consumers, The Digital Divide Does Not Exist

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walmart-logo-bigdataIn the war to win the digital consumer, Walmart is betting that an all-of-the-above strategy will win out. During a speech at AdAge Digital in New York on Tuesday, Brian Monahan, vice president of marketing at, said that world’s largest retailer remained committed to its brick-and-mortar stores and is focused on using technology to bridge the company’s digital and physical assets.

“In our customers behavior, we can see how consumers are changing the way they shop online and in-store. And, the reality is that it’s not ‘or,’ but ‘and.’ They’re doing both,” said Monahan, speaking about the division between those who shop in-store and online. “This notion of the digital divide does not exist in the consumer’s mind.”

For years, the competition between online and brick-and-mortar sellers was framed as a zero-sum game, with certain industries falling to Amazon and others staying with local sellers. But Monahan says that the barrier between the two channels is dissolving, and that Walmart customers are increasingly using the two in tandem. In the baby category, for instance, Monahan says mothers often conduct extensive research on the retailer’s website and then go into the store to try out, and eventually buy, certain products.

While ecommerce has grown steadily over the past decade, the overwhelming majority of retail spending still occurs in locally. The explosion of Yelp, and other firms that look to disrupt local shopping, underscore the growing influence which digital channels have on offline consumer behavior.

That’s not to say consumers aren’t moving the other way. Monahan says that consumers undoubtedly use their smartphones to comparison shop in-store, but the key to combating showrooming isn’t stopping consumers from browsing the web — it’s shaping that behavior. Monahan says the company has geo-fenced all of its stores, and offers an in-store option in its mobile app that allows customers to compare prices online and even checkout using their devices.

“Its more important that we go faster as a company (and we fail fast), because we know the customer and the technology is coming,” said Monahan, speaking about building services for smartphones. He says that today roughly half of Walmart shoppers own a smartphone, reflecting average adoption rates for adults in the U.S., according to Comscore.

Much of that innovation is centering around easing the transition from in-store to online and back again. Last month, for instance, the company acquired Yumprint, a meal-planning app that allows users to easily convert recipes into itemized shopping lists. Then late last month, the company tested its Savings Catcher feature, a tool that allows shoppers to upload receipts and immediately receive credit if a competitor offers a lower price, in a move to combat some of the opportunity costs associated with shopping in-store.

Maybe the biggest threat to Walmart is the growth of same-day delivery programs from the large tech firms. But Monahan said that the company was committed to grocery delivery, and questioned the ability for companies like Google to catch up.

“There’s a lot of people out there now who are trying to get the economics of delivery to work. However, getting something like grocery delivery right requires more than having smart cars that are powered by maps,” said Monahan, responding to a question about Google’s Shopping Express product. “We think we have a lot of experience in the logistics space, and lot of our competitors are rushing to get that out. We already ship from our stores, so we already have a lot of that infrastructure built.”

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.