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Here come the comps - data sharing era begins


Walmart’s view of the shopper is a whole lot clearer now that the company has resumed sharing point-of-sale data with the likes of Nielsen, SymphonyIRI Group and NPD. No wonder chief merchant Duncan Mac Naughton and consumer insights head Cindy Davis expect good things to happen.

Mac Naughton and Davis on Thursday participated in the second annual SHOP conference presented by the Center for Retailing Excellence at the University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business. The event was focused on shopper marketing and consumer insights and Mac Naughton and Davis had insights of their own to share with the more than two hundred attendees.

“We wouldn’t be sharing this data if we didn’t think it was going to give us a competitive advantage,” said Mac Naughton, Walmart’s chief merchandising and marketing officer.

The new data sets which integrate Walmart’s point-of-sale information with the overall markets are expected to become available to suppliers within the next few weeks.

“I think we have one chance to get this right,” Mac Naughton said. “The first six months are going to tell us whether we made an impact or we just became another data participating retailer.”

If Walmart and its trading partners get “it” right, he indicated the company’s U.S. stores would see a benefit for the next several years.

Mac Naughton wrapped up the half day conference by sharing thoughts on a wide range of topics related to the U.S. business and consumers. For example, he noted that, “the power that our customers have today and the knowledge they have is mind-blowing,” and “because the customer is moving fast, we need to move faster.”

On the subject of prices and price leadership, Mac Naughton said he welcomes the era of price transparency because Walmart enjoys price separation with it competitors. As for Amazon and the credit it receives for low prices, he said their prices tend to go up and down multiple time throughout the day and, “someday the customer is going to figure it out.”

Online is at the center of Walmart’s paranoia, but the company operates 4,000 stores that are within one day delivery of 99% of the population and 60% of online orders are fulfilled through the Site-to-Store service.

“It is the matter of the cost of that last mile that we have to figure out,” Mac Naugton said in reference to the delivery piece.

Figuring things out is where Davis comes in. As EVP of the global consumer insights and analytics team Walmart created in advance of its decision made a year ago to resume sharing its data, Davis said Walmart has an opportunity to lift its collective IQ of the customer.

“That’s a fancy way of better understanding customers,” Davis said. “There has never been a time when we’ve had more information, more feedback and more data about our customers.”

That makes life very exciting for marketers, but it also exacerbates what has been a perennial challenge since the advent of point of sale scanning technology enabled retailers to accumulate massive volumes of data. “How do we know which information is most important?” Davis asked.

The way Walmart attempts to figure it out is by utilizing a framework with four components that Davis called an “insights engine.”

“We start with what we call in the box which is really the behavioral information that we can see when our customers are shopping with us. We have a wealth of transaction information to mine and it is one of our most important assets,” Davis said.

The second quadrant on the framework grid relates to what is happening outside the box, or more specifically, how Walmart customers are engaging with its competitors, because that is a key to understanding what customers unmet needs are. This is the piece that has been missing for the past decade following Walmart’s decision to stop sharing point of sale information with the industry’s leading data aggregators out of a concern that competitors were gaining more insight into Walmart’s business than Walmart was gaining into the marketplace.

After in the box and out of the box, the third piece of the puzzle is in the mind of the consumer where Walmart wants to understand “why they do what they do, what their attitudes are and the motivations driving their behaviors.”

In the past, Davis said the company might have stopped at three elements, but the fourth piece is now the bricks and clicks component. She noted that no other retailer interacts with as many customers across such a breadth of categories as Walmart, referencing the 200 million shoppers who visit its stores each week, the millions of customers and 15 million Facebook fans.

“We feel like we have a really unique opportunity to understand the customer,” Davis said.

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