Walmart shops for customer insight

Big Data is causing big changes in the mind-set at the world’s biggest retailer.

The advent of more versatile analytical tools is causing a culture change at Walmart, Dan Thorpe, senior director of analytics for global customer insights, said during a session at The Premiere Business Leadership Series conference, presented by SAS, in Las Vegas yesterday.

“It used to be that [a vendor] would come to us with a program and we would say, ‘Well, let’s see how customers react when we do this.‘ But now we use data to work with suppliers on how we can create affinity within other categories,” Thorpe said. “We found that we were just trading share with a lot of programs.  Now it’s about incrementality.  How do we increase basket size or add another trip?”

Thorpe, who came to Walmart from Wachovia Bank three years ago, revealed that high-performance analytics have launched the company into an exploratory phase. Walmart this year began sharing transactional data with Nielsen after staying off the screen for 10 years. Thorpe said his unit has placed everything from in-store behavior to click streams to social media postings under the microscope.

Additionally, Walmart has accelerated its use of outside consultants and research companies to dip deeper into the wellspring of data presented by 200 million unique users on and 15 million Facebook fans, according to Thorpe. “We’re identifying the convenience category buyers and the scratch cooks,” he said.  “We’re putting these personas together for the first time.”

The goal is to get a holistic view of the Walmart’s customers. “We want to know what’s going on inside the box, outside the box, and inside the mind,” Thorpe said. “We’re leveraging Big Data to track actual cross-channel purchase behavior. We are looking at what’s going to become of our superstores 10 to 15 years from now.”

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