With 2 Cyber-Savvy Execs Leading the Charge, Walmart Is Finding New Ways to Be Nimble

Thinking like a startup has brought results for the retail giant

Walmart tapped Barbara Messing and Andy Dunn this year and last, respectively, to lead its transformation. Meredith Mashburn

Despite its standing as the world’s biggest retailer—more than 11,000 stores and over 100 million unique web visitors per month—Walmart views itself as a scrappy challenger in the ecommerce space dominated by titans like Alibaba and Amazon. In recent years, the company has undergone an ambitious transformation as it expands in the digital realm, tapping cyber-savvy executives Andy Dunn and Barbara Messing to help lead the way.

Dunn joined Walmart in June 2017, after the company’s $310 million purchase of men’s apparel brand Bonobos, which he founded a decade earlier and led as CEO. Now, leading Walmart’s digital brands, Dunn drives a whirlwind of activity. A flurry of acquisitions—including fashion players Eloquii and ModCloth, along with in-house launches such as mattress and bedding startup Allswell—have boosted Walmart’s digital cachet, with its online sales expected to grow 40 percent this year. Overall, Walmart generated FY 2018 revenue of $500.3 billion.

“This absolutely is a startup,” Dunn says. “It sounds odd for a Fortune 1 company, but we’re operating at a level of scrappiness and speed that reminds me exactly of the early days of building Bonobos. Rather than just scaling, we’re evolving what we are doing every week, and each quarter we are doing entirely new things.”

Doing new things also falls under Messing’s purview. She arrived this summer as marketing chief after spending seven years at travel site TripAdvisor. Her experience devising campaigns for a digital-first operation, and helping shift TripAdvisor’s brand proposition from travel research to bookings, dovetails with Dunn’s pedigree to give Walmart a potent one-two punch.

Moving forward, “we need to engage our customers in ways to drive loyalty to us as a brand, and think about emotional needs as well as transactional ones,” Messing says, adding that she plans to “lean into storytelling with influencers, our social channels and new partners.” Mobile will be a top priority, because “I want to make sure we are focusing our marketing efforts on where our customers are naturally spending their downtime and extra minutes.”

Specifically, she’ll seek to demonstrate the value proposition of the brand’s expanded omnichannel programs—such as Grocery Pickup, free two-day shipping with no membership fee and Easy Returns with the Walmart app—many of which are newly launched and unfamiliar to a large swath of customers. “You’ll see more about these experiences,” she says.

Check out the full list of this year’s Adweek 50 honorees here. 

This story first appeared in the November 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.
Publish date: November 25, 2018 https://stage.adweek.com/brand-marketing/with-these-2-cyber-savvy-execs-leading-the-charge-walmart-is-finding-new-ways-to-be-nimble/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT