Walmart needs no introduction. Its footprint now spans more than 10,800 retail units under 69 banners in 27 countries, employing 2.2 million associates worldwide, including 1.3 million in the U.S. alone. This year, Walmart reclaimed the top spot on the Fortune 500 after dropping to second place a year ago, buoyed by 2012 fiscal sales of $443.9 billion, up 5.9 percent year-over-year. Big-box retailers simply don't come any bigger.
The @Walmart Labs unit may require an introduction, however. The Silicon Valley-based technology and innovation center spearheads the chain's mobile and online commerce initiatives, including its iOS and Android applications as well as in-store trials like Scan & Go, a self-checkout app enabling shoppers to scan and purchase items via mobile device. @Walmart Labs has also made headlines in recent months for acquiring startups like cloud-computing firm OneOps, social software maker Tasty Labs, predictive analytics provider Inkiru and, earlier this month, front-end optimization service Torbit.
FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny talked to Tim Kimmet, @Walmart Labs' vice president of platform and systems, about the company's technological ambitions, its expanding mobile initiatives and giving the people what they want.
Tim Kimmet on @Walmart Labs' role within the corporation: I started my career in startups. I've always really liked the fast pace of startups: I'm a developer that likes taking end-to-end ownership of the projects I run. I spent the first half of my career in that environment, and then I worked at eBay and PayPal before I was approached by an old friend to interview with Walmart.
I made the move because Walmart has assets that no one else does--both online and in stores. That was the challenge that excited me: Combining all these assets together to redefine shopping in ways no one else can. We plan to combine many of those assets together to offer a seamless shopping experience to customers--anytime, anywhere, any place. We're creating a relationship with customers, and as their needs grow, we grow and change with them.
When you look at the history of Walmart and look at Sam [Walton, the retailer's founder] and what he created the company on, it's all about saving people money so they can live better. We want to give customers more access to us. So looking at online and mobile, our mission is about connecting consumers in ways they were not able to do before.
My team focuses on Walmart's global technology platform. We provide the frameworks and tools to create the 'small within the big' that drives the culture here. As we produce new technologies, we're creating a backbone for other technologies to access. The technology arm we have here is very unique. We hire guys who are innovating and challenge them to solve problems that haven't been dealt with before. It's easy for us to attract engineers--once we've shown them the scope of our business initiatives, joining us becomes very attractive.
A prompt to enter store mode in scan-and-go test stores
Kimmet on Walmart's m-commerce initiatives: We have a lot of analytics on the back end, and we definitely see customers trending to mobile. More than 50 percent of Walmart customers have smartphones, and mobile is driving more than 40 percent of Walmart.com seasonal traffic. So mobile devices and new experiences will become really key for Walmart to meet its goals.
Customers are asking for [mobile access] every day, and as customers tell us what they want, we move in the directions they want to go. We have a hardcore focus on mobile--mobile is big enough that we have a dedicated team with its own roadmap, and we're pushing out a lot of new experiences our customers are asking for.
A lot of the things we're doing drive improvements in our stores, like Scan & Go. Customers can scan items on their mobile device, check out item attributes and make payments. Something like that gives our associates more time to spend with our customers, and strengthens that relationship.
Kimmet on Walmart's startup shopping spree: OneOps was a great acquisition. We were attracted to them because their technology helps us make changes fast. It's all about speed to impact. We're providing tools that are very automated, and OneOps allows our developers to make changes to the site fast.
In the case of Tasty Labs, the founders are really great innovators in Web technology. As we start to meet our goal of combining great properties and delivering a seamless experience, we need innovators who know modern Web technologies. As for Inkiru, I know the founders and they're great technologists in the area of fraud. That's a big part of our customer promise--not just delivering a great experience, but also keeping it safe.
We'll always have things to do--as things come up in the industry, we'll always have demands for new innovations and new requests, and things you haven't even thought about. As customer needs change, we start to think about binding assets together, and there are different ways to get us further along in our roadmap. Acquisitions is one way to get there.
Kimmet on Walmart's mobile future: We want to give consumers a higher level of sudo access to things underneath. That's a techie term I use. We want to create a stronger connection.
The exterior of the GEC headquarters
We're always looking at analytics, direct customer feedback from blogs and things like that. Sam visited stores, and he connected with customers in those stores. Now we have assets online but we still have direct access to customers in stores. That helps us create a binding with them that no one else has.
The next things we have coming up will be focused on providing a more personalized experience, and learning about customers in ways that grow with trends. Our focus is multi-channel--direct interactions, interactions online and interactions on mobile devices.
We have so many assets online, and so many more in stores. If you look at the trends, you see combining those together will give users want they want. Neither one will become obsolete. Customers still want to see items in person--they want to see it and touch it. If we can create a seamless experience across those platforms, then we can provide a next-generation shopping experience and give customers what they want however they want it.
Kimmet's advice for aspiring developers: When you first graduate from college, you're looking for a challenge. You're not proven yet, and you want to figure out how to get your name out there. But as you go into a new company, don't think about setting yourself up for a promotion--just think about what you're doing and nail it. Focus. Be excited to join a team--you're going to grow together and face challenges you haven't faced before.
We're here in the Valley to attract great talent. When we tackle the different problems we have to solve, we don't feel like we can buy something off the shelf. So we hire guys who think about speed to impact--engineers who know how to solve high-scale problems and who want to own projects end-to-end.
Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology Booyah, Bolt Creative, Thwapr, Monkeyland Industries, Rocket Racing League, Vlingo, Advanced Mobile Protection, PapayaMobile, Taptu, GameHouse, Avatron, aisle411, Crowdstory, Outfit7, ADP, Locai, The PlayForge, Universal Mind, Khush, MindJolt SGN, Matchbook, Next One's on Me, Out of the Park Developments, WhosHere, Roaming Hunger, Inside News360, RotoWire, Glympse, PlayFirst, PicsArt, Digisocial, MapQuest, VMware and Sidecar.