How a Walmart App Speeds Inventory Control

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How solving a retail supply chain problem also helps boost customer experience and employee productivity.

Name of Organization: Walmart

Industry: Retail

Location: Bentonville, AR USA

Business Opportunity or Challenge Encountered:

How many times have you requested something in a busy store – such as a pair of shoes in a specific size – and had the sales associate go hunt it down, but then completely vanish?

Challenges with retail supply chain and inventory control are not only frustrating to a customer, but can mean lost revenue. Time spent looking for items no longer works in today’s tough and highly competitive retail environment. In low-margin businesses such as retail, every sale has to count and must be transacted efficiently. Customers have also grown used to finding instant answers on their smartphones.

There are now multiple channels through which retailers can reach customers, but brick-and- mortar stores are still a dominant venue.  The ability to keep customers engaged – and quickly fulfill their needs while on the sales floor – is a critical difference. If a sales associate needs leave customers to hunt for items in stock, sales are lost.

The challenge of attentive sales engagements is particularly felt by Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, with thousands of bricks-and-mortar locations. Essentially, Walmart managers were spending ”thousands of hours” in back rooms, checking or searching for stock, versus spending time on the floor with customers, reports Mark Ibbotson, EVP of central operations for Walmart US.

How This Business Opportunity or Challenge Was Met:

In a recent post at the @WalmartLabs site, Ibbotson reports that Walmart is addressing this challenge through a new mobile app that feeds real-time information to associates.

The Walmart app, MyProductivity, developed through @WalmartLabs, is now available on the smartphones of every member of Walmart’s in-store management team across the United States.

“Gone are the days of a manager having to disappear from the sales floor for huge blocks of time,” Ibbotson says. “No more logging into a separate system to gain access to sales, replenishment, warehouse or other data needed to keep the business running efficiently.”

With My Productivity, Walmart managers can click and take care of business right on the sales floor, he continues. “We live in a digital age, where apps are intuitive and people can do what they need to do, when they need to do it, without delay. That’s how retail needs to operate.”

Walmart also enhances real-time supplier data through its SPARC (Supplier Portal Allowing Retail Coverage) app, which enables suppliers to gain overviews of what products are on the shelves at any given time. By accessing this real-time data, suppliers are better able to make informed decisions about in-stock levels and product availability.

@WalmartLabs, which has development centers in USA, Brazil and India, seeks to “redefine the shopping experience” to meet the changing needs of customers wherever they are — in stored, on the website, or on their mobile devices. As the innovation unit of Walmart, originally formed from its acquisition of Kosmix in 2011, @WalmartLabs is tasked with assembling data from social networks and mobile transactions to build Wal-Mart’s data analytics capabilities.

Measurable/Quantifiable and “Soft” Benefits from This Initiative:

With the MyProductivity Walmart app, managers are able to set the wheels in motion to restock specific items, access real-time sales data and trends, and even answer customer questions, Ibbotson says.

“The tool even allows management to review feedback from customer receipt surveys as they’re submitted, allowing them to react to potential issues faster than ever before,” he said.

With the introduction of the app, managers and associates are spending more time on sales floors – with customers. “We’re turning the attention back to productivity, service and selling. And, most importantly, we’re putting them back where our customers need them most,” he says.

(Source: Walmart. Photo: blog.walmart.com)

Related:

Real-time retail: why Uniqlo employees use handhelds

Archives: inventory control case studies

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