Retailer modifies its buying operation

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 2:04 a.m.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is adjusting its buying operations in efforts to make the process more efficient for both the retailer and its vast network of suppliers.

Under the Bentonville-based retailer's new plan, a product available for sale in Wal-Mart stores also will be approved for its online assortment. One buyer from the retailer's store buying team will be able to purchase the product for both platforms. Previously, a supplier would have to work with separate buyers for the item to be available in both places.

The change is designed to streamline the assortment process so items that are in stores also are available online.

"This is part of a continued effort to better serve customers by creating a more efficient process that accelerates how we bring the full assortment of products in stores to," Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "It also allows for buyers to focus on expanding the online assortment."

Wal-Mart likely will discuss the change during a supplier-growth conference, which begins today at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers. About 4,000 suppliers will attend the two-day meeting.

Holding a separate conference for suppliers is a slight change from previous years, when Wal-Mart scheduled the event in conjunction with what it calls its annual "year-beginning meeting." Suppliers will be able to attend sessions that include topics like marketing and in-store events, new supplier tools, direct imports, growth with U.S. manufacturing and sustainability and inventory expectations.

Digital acceleration also is a session on the agenda and has been a focal point for the retailer under Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon and U.S. e-commerce chief Marc Lore. Wal-Mart has emphasized efforts to increase its online offerings and has boosted the assortment to more than 20 million items.

Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, said Wal-Mart has been able to expand aggressively through its online marketplace. Now the retailer is taking steps to ensure items available in its 4,600 stores can be efficiently added to under the new buying plan.

"This is a worthwhile effort given that shoppers expect most items available in a Wal-Mart store to also be available online," Spieckerman said in an email. "The move may also be a boon to suppliers, particularly new ones, giving them the opportunity to build omnichannel scale with Wal-Mart more easily and through existing contacts."

The change is not a merger between Wal-Mart's store and online buying teams. Both will continue to operate separately.

Suppliers who only have products to sell at will continue to work with the retailer's online buying team in San Bruno, Calif. Those who have products in Wal-Mart stores, but additional items that sell online only, will go through the buying team as well.

Eric Howerton, chief executive officer of Fayetteville-based digital marketing firm WhyteSpyder, believes the adjustment could alleviate confusion for both Wal-Mart buyers and suppliers.

Howerton also said the change "makes total sense" for Wal-Mart because of its ongoing efforts to tear down any barriers that exist between its stores and e-commerce businesses.

"It's one Wal-Mart, one experience for the shopper," Howerton said. "So it's going to be one experience for the supplier to an extent because, really, they're not selling to dot-com and/or stores. They're selling to Wal-Mart."

Business on 02/15/2017