- Walmart has hired a new leader to head Store No. 8, the mass merchant's technology incubator, the company said Monday in an email to employees, a copy of which was shared with Retail Dive.
- Scott Eckert will take over from Lori Flees, who became principal of Store No. 8 two years ago. Eckert previously served as an executive in residence for Bain Capital Ventures, the venture capital arm of the investment firm Bain Capital. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of Rethink Robotics, which develops robotic solutions for manufacturers, and co-founded the tech firm Motion Computing.
- As senior vice president of next generation retail, Eckert will work out of Walmart's Hoboken, New Jersey, office and report to Marc Lore, who heads Walmart's U.S. e-commerce unit. Flees will transition the leadership of Store No. 8 to Eckert while retaining her role as senior vice president for Health & Wellness for Sam's Club, which she had held in addition to her leadership of Store No. 8.
Based in Silicon Valley, Store No. 8's charge is to keep Walmart competitive years into the future by trying to anticipate, if not create, retail's future. It's an R&D lab for a company that rose to dominance focusing on the nitty gritty details of logistics, store ops and bare-knuckle retail competition. In other words, it is a modest hedge against the possibility of retail's future being taken over by a tech company (i.e. Amazon).
Under Flees, Store No. 8 launched the concierge service Jetblack, run by Rent the Runway co-founder Jenny Fleiss, virtual reality startup Spatialand and artificial intelligence lab IRL. The incubator, launched in 2017, has made other moves since its inception, including developing cashierless store technology, acquiring a product review startup and launching a secret tech-focused "stealth company."
Lore wrote of Eckert in an email to employees that the executive had experience in building companies, raising capital and bringing technologies to market.
"Scott is passionate about creating new businesses that have impact at scale, and he told me there's no better place to do that than Walmart," Lore said. "His start-up mentality and ability to lead in emerging categories will help fuel Store No. 8 as we continue to dream big, explore new technologies and develop next gen capabilities to serve customers."
Store No. 8 is part of Walmart's broader efforts to beef up its online and technological capabilities, which accelerated with Lore joining Walmart after it acquired his e-commerce company, Jet.
More recently, the retailer brought in Suresh Kumar, a veteran of Amazon and Microsoft, as its new chief technology officer. Walmart has also expanded its tech labs in North Virginia (soon to be home to half of Amazon's second headquarters). And the company's plans for a new headquarters in its home base of Bentonville, Arkansas, is, as some have observed, a tribute to the modern tech company campus.
While all those moves may win Walmart headlines and kudos, the retailer still pulls in more than $120 billion a quarter, mostly through old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retailing.