Horatio Barbeito

Walmart Canada plans to accelerate its digital engagement and revamp the in-store experience to provide customers with a more comprehensive omnichannel offering as it moves into 2021, says Horacio (Haio) Barbeito, president and CEO.

Barbeito, who joined Walmart in 1995 and has been at the helm of Walmart Canada since August 2019, shared his thoughts on how Walmart Canada is repositioning itself for a post-COVID environment during a Retail Council of Canada "In Conversation With Retail Leaders" virtual discussion.

“COVID has done more than any CEO could have done in accelerating the digital transformation among consumers and ecommerce is here to stay. We plan to accelerate our own proposition and we’re also reinvesting in our stores and looking at how to transform them within the context of an omnichannel experience.”

Partnerships with suppliers will be key in helping Walmart and other retailers reposition themselves in a new post-COVID world.

“Ecommerce is fantastic, and customers love it but when it comes to groceries, it’s difficult to serve customers in a way that generates profits, and this will be new phase for suppliers and retailers working together to ensure this channel can be profitable. I see an opportunity for retailers and suppliers to embark on things such as personalization, data sharing and direct advertising.”

To achieve an effective omnichannel experience will require a merging of technologies between the digital and physical in-store worlds, adds Barbeito.

“We’re not where we want to be, but we’ve made a lot of progress around stores being fulfillment centres equipped with automation, AI for replenishment and changes in logistics. We have a lot going on in Canada with engagement around blockchain technology for traceability and we’ll be announcing in the following weeks our investment plans for Canada in accelerating tech development for the customer experience and creating a more tech-enabled associate too.”

Adjusting strategies in a new retail environment

The recent pandemic has changed customer shopping behaviours and like other retailers, Walmart Canada is rethinking how it approaches high season sales periods such as Back-to-School, Black Friday and December holidays.

“We’re preparing stores with items for back-to-school and it’s a hybrid because in some regions we know we’ll have to focus on electronics where children will not be going back to school and in other regions, we’ve deployed in-class items.  You never wish for these tough times but they’re an incredible source of creativity and innovation and we know we have to work with the supplier community to be flexible and react to market changes.”

When it comes to Black Friday and the December holidays, Barbeito says Walmart Canada is taking health and safety measures into account.

“We’re working as a team with the U.S. to ensure we have a strong in-store proposition and are looking at things like spreading out the holiday offerings over more days so customers don’t have to rush to get items and ensuring they can still get the amazing prices they want without risking their safety. We’ll be addressing the challenge of having people lining up outside because it’s not an option in Canada in the cold and we’ll come up with some creative technology so you can save a spot in line.”

The lifestyle changes that have emerged in the past few months – working, studying and cooking more at home – are here to stay “for a while” says Barbeito, and because of that, sourcing strategies will be important.

“A challenge we are facing for the remainder of this year and into next year is operating in a high volatile environment and forecast accuracy. We’ll need to work with suppliers on understanding and anticipating potential waves of demand and I think consumers will be affected by having less assortment in some categories. I see a simplification in the assortment proposition in some categories and huge opportunities in others.”

The disruption in the supply chain has pushed a buy-local movement and Barbeito says while it is an important component in consumers’ purchasing decisions, “I challenge my merchants to ensure it’s relevant for the customer and the country. Made-in-Canada is important, but so is inclusivity because we want to be able to offer goods and services at low cost and for all socioeconomic levels. Customers have to have options.”

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