Walmart’s head of ecommerce Marc Lore has talked about the importance of humans in the retailer’s push to grow online sales. It sounds like heresy in an industry where Artificial Intelligence, robots, and drones are seen as the end-all and be-all.
That’s not to say Lore is ignoring technology – he has said he sees it as being core to the Walmart Marketplace for “longtail” products. But for Walmart’s top million SKUs (“short tail” commodities and groceries), category specialists are key.
Walmart acquired Lore’s company Jet.com in October 2016 for approximately $3 billion in cash and $300 million of Walmart shares and put him in charge of ecommerce for both Walmart.com and Jet.com. One year later, Lore revealed the company was on a hiring spree and said Walmart’s top million SKUs could eventually be covered by 2,000 specialists.
“This specialist spends all day, every day, focused on all the details to perfect the experience of that category. Perfecting the descriptions, getting all the right images, making sure the attributes and filters are perfect.
“We even have the ability of category specialists now to show exactly what the 10 results should be for any specific keywords search term. And they can move around the results depending on how new products come in that maybe aren’t recognized by the search engine right away. Products they want to merchandise because they have particularly good margins and customers really like the product.”
Lore went on to say Walmart had hired 250 category specialists and planned to hire 40-50 specialists per month. It’s also investing in merchandising tools to “help them do more, faster.”
What is striking about the strategy is how difficult it might make things for eBay, which is trying to compete by creating its own product catalog but is dependent on sellers of all sizes and levels of experience to input the data. Amazon’s catalog isn’t perfect either. The idea that humans will focus on optimizing Walmart’s catalog and search results for online shoppers changes the game for everyone.
Lore is positioning Jet.com to be geared toward the more affluent, higher income, urban millennial customer, which is helping it attract premium brands, which he believes will ultimately end up on Walmart.com.
At the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org conference in September, Lore outlined some specific initiatives it launched to help it reach its goals:
– Walmart is now using colored blue boxes to ship its items;
– It is redesigning its website;
– And it’s doing things to change the look and feel of the branding.
Lore has also said Walmart is working on partnerships to bring more premium assortment to the site and said to look for vertical shopping experiences that are more about browse and discovery – with the focus on Home and Fashion.