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IBM keeps offering new retail capabilities

BY Dan Berthiaume

ARMONK, N.Y. — IBM aims to let retailers get more personal with their customers. As part of a general release of new cloud-based industry platforms, IBM is introducing a Retail Consumer Experience platform.

The platform is designed to allow retailers to deploy increasingly sophisticated and personalized engagement capabilities. These capabilities will be based on contextual, relevant, multi-channel, end-to-end personalization designed around the customer’s unique interests. Also of potential interest to retailers is a new “Insights for a Connected World” platform designed to collect and process Internet of Things data from connected devices.

As part of this initiative, IBM announced the opening of the first IBM Cloud Business Innovation Center in Bangalore, India. Cloud Business Innovation Centers allow global clients to work side-by-side with IBM solution consultants, researchers, digital marketing and experience design experts to personalize the industry platforms to their specific needs.

IBM has been busy lately in offering new solutions and labs for retailers. On Sept. 24, IBM opened a new global headquarters for IBM Commerce and new hub for its Watson artificial intelligence platform in San Francisco.
 
In addition, IBM is partnering with The Fung Group on a new large-scale laboratory for rapid experimentation with omnichannel retail technologies, which opened in Shanghai, China on Sept. 24. The willingness of a global technology leader like IBM to invest so much in offerings that directly or indirectly serve the needs of retailers is another sign retail technology is moving from a niche area of IT to a central focus.

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Walmart continues expansion of grocery pick-up service

BY Mike Troy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart has extended its grocery pick up service to eight additional markets and is alluding to the possibility of a more significant roll out in the months ahead.

The nation’s largest food retailer said its free online grocery pickup service was being offered at select stores in new markets including, Atlanta, Nashville, Tucson, Colorado Springs, Charlotte and Fayetteville, NC., and Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah. Expansion of the convenient service is something customers continually ask for, according to Michael Bender, executive vice president and COO of Walmart Global eCommerce.

“We’ve tested online grocery options – both pickup and delivery – in a handful of markets across the U.S., and each time we’ve added a new city, our customers begin using the service faster than they did in the previous one,” Bender said. “In the coming weeks, we’ll add stores in even more markets to our list of pickup locations.”

Walmart began offering the service several years ago with a test in San Jose, Calif., not far from its Global eCommerce headquarters. It was subsequently expanded to Denver, Phoenix, Huntsville, Ala., and the retailer’s hometown of Bentonville, Ark.

The most recent expansion of the pick up service comes two weeks prior to Walmart’s big annual fall investor conference in mid-October where the company can expect a lot of tough questions about its deteriorating sales performance and rising expenses which have caused shares to tumble to the low $60 range after nosing above $90 back in January. The meeting is typically a venue where Walmart showcases new growth initiatives and an announcement about a more meaningful roll out of the grocery pick up service would be consistent with the company’s long held view that its expansive collection of physical assets and increasingly robust digital capabilities uniquely position it for long term success.

“With 70% of the U.S. population living within five miles of an existing Walmart store, this is an idea that simply makes sense for us,” Bender said of the pick up service. “We have the locations already in place, and with our website and mobile app expertise, we’re able to combine those things in a way that helps our customers save time and still take advantage of our everyday low prices.”

To use the service, customers shop their grocery lists online, choose a time to pick up their orders and then pull in to a designated parking area at their local stores where Walmart employees load the purchases into the car.

“It’s all the convenience of a specially trained personal shopper, plus the things you’d expect from Walmart: the same low prices we offer every day in our local stores, no extra fees or charges and the ability to place an order and pick it up the very same day,” Bender said.

If Walmart is uniquely positioned with its physical and digital assets, Bender is uniquely qualified to make the service work on a national level. He is one of the few executives in Walmart’s Global eCommerce organization with a first-hand understanding of the complexity and operational challenges associated with executing the grocery pick up service.

Prior to being named to his current position as COO of Global eCommerce, a role in which he is tasked with the integration of digital commerce into new and existing formats, Bender spent four years as executive vice president and president of Walmart West business unit of the retailer’s U.S. stores division. Bender joined Walmart in 2009 and gained real world operational experience first as a vice president of operations responsible for Arizona, Nevada and Utah and then as a senior vice president of operations with added responsibility for Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

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Walmart moves closer to renewable future with big wind deal

BY Marianne Wilson

Walmart has taken a big step towards becoming 100% supplied by renewable energy.

The discounter  entered into a long-term power purchase agreement to buy the majority of the electricity generated by Pattern Energy Group’s new Logan's Gap Wind facility.

The 200 megawatt facility is in Comanche County, Texas.

"Walmart has a goal to be supplied by 100 percent renewable energy, and sourcing from wind energy projects – like the Logan's Gap Wind Facility – is a core component in the mix," said Mark Vanderhelm, VP of energy for Walmart.    "The energy we'll procure from this facility represents nearly one-fifth of the U.S. portion of our goal to source seven billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy by 2020. That's a significant leap forward on our renewable energy journey."

The facility will sell 75% of the electricity produced to Walmart and a financial institution. Walmart has a 10-year  agreement with Pattern to acquire 58% of the expected output from the facility.

Walmart has not set a date for achieving its goal of being supplied by 100% renewable energy. But the chain recently reaffirmed its commitment to renewable energy by joining RE100, a global initiative led by The Climate Group.

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