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Walmart Web Work Leaves Much In Store

8-11-2014 12-08-59 PMWalmart created some buzz recently when it announced plans to personalize its online shopping experience, but the news failed to address the white elephant that is Walmart’s cornerstone – those big white stores, all 1.1 billion square feet of them.

The low-priced retailer, the largest merchant in the world with sales of more than $476 billion, in early August detailed plans to customize its online experience. In particular, Walmart will draw on previous consumer purchase behaviors to show shoppers other products they might want to buy. Kind of how Amazon.com has been marketing to its shoppers for years.

However, there is a key difference between Walmart and Amazon, and that is the dot-com part. Walmart is a multi-channel merchant, with scads of behavioral residue clinging to its shelves. If it leverages only its online consumer data, and ignores those residual in-store insights, it’s operating with a sizable consumer blind spot because, let’s face it, most consumers shop in multiple ways.

I am not implying that Walmart’s online endeavor is a poor investment. Its limited focus on online behavior presents opportunities for learning how consumers interact through a critical channel – especially when competing with the likes of Amazon.com – but is incomplete data worth the risk?

Perhaps Walmart is able to connect information from its stores to its customers, and if so that would help it enhance the relevance of its messaging. However, even with its extensive data mining capabilities, I am not sure it can connect the dots that effectively. Walmart lacks the kind of data that it would gather through a loyalty program and the unique identifiers one affords. Granted, it is testing the waters of loyalty in different ways, such as with its Savings Catcher price-comparison app, but without a loyalty platform that touches consumers regardless of how they shop, there’s a limited chance these efforts will reach full potential.

Retailers that want to create a personalized experience have to consider ways to connect customer activity across channels and then design the customer experience to maximize the relevance factor. In doing so, they could turn any white elephant into a cash cow.

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