Walmart CEO Doug McMillon on the Future of Retail After Coronavirus

Last-mile delivery will play a bigger role in the new normal

Doug McMillon speaking at podium
The Walmart CEO shared some insights from Covid-19 so far. Getty Images
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Key insights:

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon published his thoughts on the long-term impact of the coronavirus on the retail industry, noting that “some clear insights are starting to emerge.”

These include the addition of retail employees to the ranks of front-line workers as they, too, play a critical role in serving consumers, he noted in a corporate blog post.

“The people in the retail industry, foodservice and delivery services have been standing on the front lines of this crisis and extending that lifeline to all of us, every day,” he wrote.

McMillon said U.S. consumers are also seeing the importance of supply chains, which, until now, have operated “quietly behind the scenes.”

What’s more, he said consumers are starting to realize “the supply chain doesn’t just extend from a distribution center to the loading dock of a store.”

Walmart has long pushed pickup services as a competitive advantage against Amazon—in fact, pickup was the theme of its Super Bowl ad this year. Now, McMillon said last-mile delivery options such as pickup are getting a shot in the arm as consumer adoption accelerates.

“Before this crisis, we were already seeing robust adoption of online pickup and delivery in our business. As this crisis created the need for social distancing and required people to stay at home, customers embraced the pickup and delivery experience even more,” McMillon wrote. “My feeling is that once this crisis is more under control, people will have seen the benefits of that service and will likely continue to use it. It will become part of the ‘new normal.’”

In addition, while noting collaboration between public and private sectors has always been important, McMillon said it’s now vital to serving unmet needs.

“Business has the unique ability to make things happen fast and at scale. We’ve seen this across industries—car manufacturers quickly retooling to make [ventilators], textile makers pivoting to produce masks and gowns, distillers in the beverage industry converting their processes to deliver hand sanitizer,” he wrote. Walmart has converted some of its own parking lots into testing sites.

In fact, McMillon said the biggest lesson of the pandemic is the need for partnership.

“As businesses, as communities, as families and friends, we need to go forward remembering that we’re all connected in one way or another,” he said. “If there’s anything good that can come from this moment, it would be the chance we have to deepen our connections with each other.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

In a letter to employees in March, Bezos wrote, “We are meeting every day, working to identify additional ways to improve on [existing] measures. I know that we’re going to get through this together.”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.