Wal-Mart appeals to tech startups for new retail innovations
Wal-Mart last week announced its “Technology Innovation Open Call,” an appeal for startups to pitch disruptive technologies for retail, logistics, big data, security and social media to executives during an event taking place Oct. 6, 2016.
Just 30 technologies will make it to stores for testing, Wal-Mart said on its blog last week. The deadline for entry is either July 22 or whenever the first 250 submissions are received. Prospective candidates must include a three-minute video and written overview of their company.
The effort, which Wal-Mart has dubbed Lab 415-C (so named for founder Sam Walton’s airplane, which he used to scout real estate during the 1950s), resembles Target’s partnership with startup accelerator Techstars, announced last year.
Wal-Mart is in the midst of a push to find a path to growth. It's closing underperforming stores, and beefing up training and pay for store employees. Those efforts will cost the retailer more than $1 billion, according to its own estimation.
While investors have balked at those costs, it appears that Wal-Mart is spending 10 times that much to boost its digital efforts. The retailer has said it plans to spend $2 billion on e-commerce by the end of 2017 and pledged to develop its online grocery business. Wal-Mart is also among the companies looking hardest for top tech talent. Lab 415-C and the Technology Innovation Open Call are another facet of that effort.
If Wal-Mart is going to catch up in digital sales, the retailer needs to improve its tech muscles. In Q4 this year, which included the holiday season, Wal-Mart reported just 8% growth in online sales. It’s not quite fair to compare Wal-Mart—the largest retailer not just in the U.S., but in the world—to rivals Amazon or Target, which pale in comparison by several measures, but Amazon saw Q4 growth of 22% and Target boosted its online sales by 34% in the same period, helped by its holiday-time free shipping policy.
But Nick Egelanian, president of retail development consultants SiteWorks International, told Retail Dive earlier this year that it would be a mistake for Wal-Mart to move too far from its brick-and-mortar stronghold for the sake of e-commerce growth—especially when you consider that even after two decades of market disruption from Amazon (a company that he says is not quite profitable in its own retail endeavors), e-commerce remains at most about 8% of all retail industry sales.
“Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in the world, and their system is selling through bricks and mortar,” Egelanian said. “And they’re efficient. We know that Wal-Mart has the most efficient system in the world. We know that they break that product down and put it on the shelves, and they do that very efficiently also, and then they’re done. And selling on the Internet is not efficient. The whole methodology of selling on the Internet is completely foreign to what it’s like selling at a Wal-Mart.”
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