Walmart Plans a Buying Spree of Its Own

By Steve Anderson May 29, 2014

Normally, a trip to Walmart is one that involves a lot of buying. Some go for groceries, others for clothing, some for tools or toys. But many don't start thinking about Walmart in terms of it buying things, and based on word from Doug McMillon, that's a light we're all going to have to start considering Walmart in very soon.

McMillon took the stage at the Code Conference, and offered up some analysis on Walmart's future plans, saying that “It's clear we need to change, and we need to change fast.” Specifically, it was noted that the company needs to move to compete with companies like Amazon, which has some very specific competitive advantages in the retail field. To that end, Walmart has some plans in store to step up its operations, and it will be looking at not only a more rapid tempo of acquisitions but also some new technologies, including 3D printing, to further augment competitive advantages. Walmart has already had some success with 3D printing, as a recent test of 3D printing in stores saw such interest that the company couldn't “...keep them in stock,” referring here to a program where customer could create miniature 3D printed models of themselves. But McMillon also noted that there were other technologies that could give Walmart a hand up in the market, including wearable technology and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication devices, particularly those for the connected home.

Indeed, Walmart has already been on something of a buying spree, picking up online companies like search-engine marketer Adchemy among a host of others; at last report, the company had picked up fully 12 different e-commerce companies just in the last three years.  This is a good move for Walmart, as its online sales reportedly rose 30 percent for the fiscal year that, for Walmart, ended January 31. McMillon even offered up one statement sure to chill many yet give others a clear demonstration of just how far Walmart was prepared to go: “If they don't want stores, we don't need to have stores.” Of course, McMillon noted that he believed physical stores would continue to be an important part of the mix for at least the short term, expressing the idea that stores would probably change to meet the needs of consumers.

3D printing is an important technology; it's the kind of thing that may well, one day, render stores like Walmart—and even Amazon, to a degree—obsolete as people make the things desired or needed right at home. It's nowhere near that point yet, of course, but it's already shown quite a bit of progress particularly on larger industrial units. 3D printing has made everything from prosthetic devices—even some that wouldn't have existed without 3D printing—to handguns and beyond, but getting such devices ready for primetime is going to take a while and a lot of development. Still, Walmart getting behind such devices is a good sign, and likely will prompt plenty of development in the future. Additionally, Walmart getting in on major expanding markets like wearables and connected home gear should also pay off in the long run.

The future of retail is likely to be an uncertain one at best, with new technologies coming in to render old practices obsolete. Adapting to that future is going to be a difficult process, and one that may well leave some casualties in its wake. But it will still be necessary, and in the end, new opportunities will hopefully emerge to make us all better off.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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