Walmart is working on personalization in the latest round of tech updates

The retail giant has centered its tech capabilities around customization in an effort to give people more confidence in their purchases and make the shopping experience easier. These updates come as shopper needs evolve rapidly, experts said. By tailoring shopping experiences to shoppers’ individual preferences, Walmart hopes to be better able to meet the rapidly changing demands of customers.

“Making it personalized helps narrow down that decision making for them because we know who they are, we know what they’re looking for,” Brock McKeel, senior vice president of site experience at Walmart eCommerce, told Modern Retail. “We get to know them.”

In his recent earnings report, Walmart said inventory for its U.S. arm was up 26% year-over-year in the second quarter — growth attributed in part to mismatched consumer demand. As a result, the company’s operating income fell 6.8% to $6.9 billion that quarter.

Apparel, McKeel said, is one of the categories that offers a lot of opportunities to be personalized, hence the company’s expansion of virtual fitting platform Zeekit, a company Walmart acquired last year. Apparel isn’t the only category Walmart focuses on, however. In June, Walmart released a app-based AR feature that would allow people to see how certain furniture and home accessories would look in their room. In terms of supermarkets, Walmart also released an online and in-app tool in January that allows people to scan products and find out if the item meets their dietary preferences.

McKeel said the site updates came after hearing feedback from customers and Walmart employees — as well as Walmart’s own customer observations. “We are constantly looking at customer shopping behavior,” says McKeel. “We want to make sure they can find the items more easily, we can find what they are looking for, have the right range and the best price.”

While McKeel wouldn’t share specific KPIs he hopes to achieve with these new programs, he said that by adding these new technical capabilities, the company hopes to build trust with people and drive repeat business.

In recent years, retailers have worked to tailor the shopping experience to individual people, regardless of where they shop. Men’s body care brand Huron has a “build your own bundle” feature, which gives shoppers the option to fill their cart with whatever combination of products they want and get incentives if they spend a certain amount. JCPenney last week announced its plans to offer artificial intelligence, allowing customers to virtually test makeup and get specially tailored skincare advice.

Shellie Vornhagen, Chief Experience Officer at customer experience platform Emplifi, said tools that help personalize the shopping experience, such as AR technology, could be one way to alleviate returns, which would help retailers improve their bottom line. She said that when customers are happy with their purchases, they are less likely to return them. According to an Alter Agents study commissioned by Snap and Publicis Media, 80% of the people reported feeling more confident in what they bought after using AR.

“From a consumer perspective, it’s important to feel like you identify with the brand,” Vornhagen said. “If you feel like the brand is doing more to identify with you, I think that builds that loyalty and that loyal fanbase.”

Even in stores, Walmart is trying to add more personal touches to shopping. Walmart said in June it was developing an AR tool that would personalize how customers view product information. For example, if customers have dietary restrictions, they can quickly search food ingredients.

However, hyperpersonalization doesn’t always live up to the hype. Bryan Gildenberg, vice president of commerce at Omnicom Commerce Group, said retailers risk spending too much time and energy on little return. “What Walmart knows about me or you is hard to monetize in a meaningful way unless it’s done with a high degree of automation,” Gildenberg said.

Still, Walmart’s McKeel said the company doesn’t plan to phase out these investments any time soon.

“We will continue to listen to our customers,” McKeel said. “If we put the customer at the center of all our decisions and help us prioritize feature and functionality rollouts, we will continue to deliver what they need from us.”

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