In an attempt to create “a cleaner and more modern digital shopping experience,” Walmart teased a site redesign that will be available starting in May. Further out, it will also include specialty shopping experiences like the home specialty experience it launched in February.
And while these changes offer promise to appeal to a broader audience with a new aesthetic and an expanded selection, analysts say bigger issues remain as the retailer casts a wide net to keep pace with Amazon.
The new Walmart.com
According to a blog post, the redesign will feature a new look and feel, including additional fonts and an expanded color palette. The site also will include more human elements, like “relatable photography that showcases real-life moments.”
These new lifestyle images could yield a more authentic experience for higher-end users that haven’t typically used the site, said Manolo Almagro, managing partner at consultancy Q Division.
The website will also include more local and personalized elements, including nearby top-selling items, a customer’s local store profile and the availability of services like online grocery. Almagro said these elements show that Walmart’s ecommerce team is making good use of location-based data.
“If the recommendation algorithms work as well as Walmart says … it will definitely give Amazon a run for [its] money,” Almagro said.
Sucharita Kodali, vp and principal analyst at research firm Forrester, added that while it appears Walmart has made some strong improvements, she questions whether site design was the real issue.
“I think they still have some selection issues and quality control on fulfillment—those are the bigger issues they need to figure out to compete with Amazon,” she said.
Almagro agreed, adding that even the best engineered website and mobile experience can be thwarted by a retailer’s inability to deliver items quickly and cheaply, which will be Walmart’s next big challenge coming up against delivery options like Amazon’s Prime Now.
Balancing low prices with high-end products
In a November 2017 announcement, Denise Incandela, head of fashion at Walmart US ecommerce, said Walmart saw customers searching for higher-end items on its website. Now, the brand is using that insight to get ahead.
Marc Lore, president and chief executive of Walmart US ecommerce, said Walmart will introduce additional specialty shopping experiences, including a fashion destination with department store Lord & Taylor on Walmart.com and the Walmart app, which will offer premium fashion brands.
The announcement also reiterated that while the site will look different, Walmart’s commitment to low prices remains—but Kodali called the partnership “a little bit of a stretch for Walmart, because it doesn’t always fit that ‘everyday low prices’ message.”
Kodali highlighted, however, that Lord & Taylor gives Walmart more selection—and may help it get more traffic and conversions from search engines because it offers a broader assortment, which, in turn, helps it be more competitive online.
“On the Internet, I think that you can have flexibility … I think there’s room to still be true to that message—everyday low prices on most items—and then offer this additional merchandise like fashion to be able to fill out the basket or capture more transactions per shoppers,” she said. “They’re being opportunistic, because Lord & Taylor isn’t going anywhere fast. If this will help Lord & Taylor, great. If it helps Walmart, that’s great, too. It certainly won’t hurt.”
Casting a wider net
To make their website truly succeed, Walmart needs to think broadly. Kodali highlighted that the reason people shop online—especially on Amazon—is because of “tremendous assortment in every category.” “Walmart online is nowhere near that assortment,” she added. “The more they can get to a broad cross-section of categories and have a good assortment in those categories, that’s a really impactful thing.”
Meanwhile, Walmart and Amazon alike struggle with credibility in fashion.
“Amazon has certain structural impediments that don’t make it the first place to think about fashion, but let’s face it: Walmart is in same boat,” Kodali said. “It’s one of the biggest fashion sellers out there, but it is not known for being fashion-forward. It’s not like Lord & Taylor is Niemen Marcus.”
At the end of the day, even if the association with Lord & Taylor isn’t helpful, Walmart will have more assets and more aspirational branded merchandise at higher price points.
“I can’t see very many people going to Lord & Taylor and being redirected, but what I could see is searching for merchandise on a search engine—you find it and end up on the Walmart site, because what you were looking for happens to be sold there,” Kodali added.