Inside @WalmartLabs and how Indian operations is fuelling online growth of the global retail giant

@WalmartLabs’s Bangalore office is lending a seamless shopping experience across mobile, web and retail and has become a backbone of the company’s ecosystem

The world’s biggest retail giant is trying to close the gap with the world’s largest online retailer. We are talking about old-time rivals Walmart and Jeff Bezos led Amazon. The shifting retail landscape and shopping preferences with consumers gravitating to online necessitated a shift for the Bentonville-headquartered company towards a data-driven strategy.

While the toe-to-toe fight between US stalwarts Walmart and Amazon over the much-coveted online space is old narrative, Analytics India Magazine caught up with Nitin Sareen, Director-Analytics @WalmartLabs Bangalore on how the retail behemoth is establishing online dominance with sophisticated analytics and the “role of Bangalore team in creating analytics-driven products and solutions that help in driving key decisions for Walmart.”

@WalmartLabs – the incubator for the world’s largest retailer serves as a driver for an analytics-focused ecommerce ecosystem

Nitin Sareen, Director Analytics @WalmartLabs

As the big box retailer doubles down on the digital push, Sareen, Director-Analytics @WalmartLabs and one of the top minds in data science dishes out how @WalmartLabs is driving retail innovation.  “We are focusing heavily on developing products that enable the customers to shop seamlessly across e-commerce and stores and also enable decision makers to leverage massive amounts of data and make data-driven decisions at speed and scale,” he shared.

AIM quizzed Sareen on what’s innovating at @WalmartLabs? “The teams are constantly experimenting and innovating with new technologies and techniques to create new products that make it easier to bring insights to action. Innovation is pushing new frontiers in leveraging the latest in compute capabilities and algorithmic advancements to churn out more accurate and faster recommendations.

So what exactly is @WalmartLabs value proposition? The center is being viewed by the senior leadership team as a strategic asset for the success of the company. @WalmartLabs, the value proposition is to partner on developing the next generational products and solutions that are strategic priorities for Walmart, Sareen reveals. “The talent we have added over the past couple of years has made a huge impact already and the center is on a strong growth trajectory. The analytics team is working across the breadth of high impact business problems like assortment optimization, price optimization, supply chain, store operations and various others,” he adds.

Facilitating the job is Bangalore’s state-of-the-art infrastructure housed across three buildings that make it easier for the teams to work and collaborate across the globe.

Walmart, the dominant global retailer is the new digital disruptor

So how’s retail re-imagined @WalmartLabs and is data driven strategy driving in-store inventory, recommendations and personalization?  Our work is about more than just knowing what our customers want, it’s about understanding who they are. At Walmart, a huge amount of data and insights on a scale that’s unrivaled in the industry is generated each day. With this data, we are able to get a deeper insight to customer’s needs and demands and also what they are looking for. This understanding is then leveraged for making our products and experiences for the customers more relevant so that they can live better, Sareen lets in on how data is used to enrich consumer experience.

@WalmartLabs Analytics – decoding assortment planning

Sareen gives us the lowdown on how analytics is being used to understand localized customer demand of assortment. “Walmart is committed to providing seamless shopping experience to its customers. This helps Walmart create the “stores of the community”, that carry the assortment that the local community wants to shop for. When you walk into a Walmart supercenter, it provides a consistent experience, though there are subtle differences in the assortment that is carried from one store to the other. This is achieved by leveraging the power of analytics. Linking online and in-store transactions makes it easier for customers to enjoy experiences like order online and pick up at store or order on their mobile device while in store and get it delivered at home. The customers have the option of “Scan and Go”, get their receipts on their email or choose to pay using Walmart pay,” he shares.

@WalmartLabs is also known for successfully integrating hundreds of internal and external data into their analytics, such as weather data and local events data are used to “understand customer demand for a certain item or category”. According to Sareen, “Data is viewed as a strategic asset and as much as internal data is important, data external to Walmart is constantly being coupled with it. The combination of internal and external data helps to discover latent patterns”.

Citing an example, he shares: One such example is the use of weather and local events data along with historical demand patterns to estimate how the customer demand for a certain item or category. This information is used to ensure we are able to maintain the optimal levels of inventory in the stores and distribution centers to meet expectations. Not only does it help Walmart keep the inventory carrying costs under control, it also ensures that we have the right level of stocks maintained on the shelves when customers walk in or while ordering online.

Retail stores have to do the tight-walk of predicting customer demand accurately in a short span of time. Wal-mart that has “over 200 million weekly visits to our stores, and billions of online transactions is able to estimate the local demand in a very short period of time, thanks to real-time monitoring of sales across items and emerging local trends as gleaned through social media”.

Here’s how @WalmartLabs crunches numbers to understand shopper’s behaviour and meet demand

Sareen gives an under-the-hood peek in how trends are decoded to understand consumer’s demands.

  • Before the trends convert into a demand peak, we are able to detect it and get the supply chain process move to meet the demand.
  • Doing it quick, across stores and categories is a very interesting challenge to solve
  • The team has developed a system that constantly analyzes the data and alerts the replenishment managers.
  • Measurements and insights are what we thrive on

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Richa Bhatia
Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.

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