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Over the past eight years, Walmart’s Daniel Eckert, ’05 (XP-74), has had a front-row seat to the profound transformations gripping the retail industry.

“We have not ever seen the pace of change as fast as we are seeing it today,” said Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart services and digital acceleration. “It’s forcing new ways of thinking, and entire new ways for organizations to work within themselves and with customers.”

As the keynote speaker at Chicago Booth’s inaugural Marketing Summit, Eckert shared how he’s developing products at the nexus of digital and physical that help the world’s largest retailer reach customers where, when, and how they want to shop.

Sponsored by the James M. Kilts Center for Marketing, the summit gathered executive-level alumni in marketing with renowned faculty members to exchange ideas, dig into the data, and look ahead to what’s next. Read on for some of their top takeaways:

Time is the New Currency

For most consumers, price is still king. But about two years ago, Walmart’s customer research suggested a growing number of shoppers would pay a little more to save time or reduce the stress of going to the store. It was “a wake-up call,” Eckert said. It spurred the company to rapidly expand a pilot program that paired online grocery ordering with five-minute, curbside pickup.

“What we found is that when you actually save customers time,” Eckert said, “they reward you with the marketer’s dream: loyalty.” Two years later, curbside pickup has expanded to more than 1,500 locations and will end the year with more than 2,200. For Eckert, it’s a winning combination of Walmart’s digital capabilities and brick-and-mortar stores. “Our customers are telling us this is the type of retail shopping equation they’re looking for.”

To Work Faster, Work Together

To scale ambitious projects at the speed needed to thrive in an omnichannel environment, companies need to adopt a profoundly different way of working. As Eckert put it: “Just like Agile has been applied to software development, Agile now needs to be applied to a business environment.”

He shared the example of Walmart Pay, a mobile-payment app that’s been a smash-hit for the retailer—66 percent of first-time users shop with it again within 14 days, and the app boasts a 92 percent retention rate after a second purchase. With limited resources and an Agile mindset, Eckert led a “team of teams” to take the app from an idea to a working, in-store prototype within six months. Six months after that, Walmart Pay rolled out to all 4,700-plus US stores.

“It takes an Agile-product mindset to make sure you’ve got at least 80 percent right, but the 20 percent are completely unknown, and you’re still comfortable with the risks,” he said. Setting aside traditional silos can be hard for large organizations, he said. Cross-enterprise collaboration and support from senior leadership are key. “But, if you don’t make that move, it will prevent your ability to adapt to that incredible rate of change that we’re seeing today.”

Speak with a Single Voice

At a separate panel, alumni marketing leaders continued the discussion of omnichannel customer experiences. They emphasized the importance of a unified brand voice and keeping the consumer’s concerns front-and-center.

“Omnichannel is a bold promise to the consumer that you’re going to speak with a single voice. That’s easy to promise and hard to deliver on,” said moderator Oleg Urminsky, professor of marketing and Beatrice Foods Co. Faculty Scholar.

Equinox Fitness vice president of marketing Carla Dunham, ’03, said it’s vital to present information as part of an ecosystem that ultimately serves the consumer better. She shared the example of Equinox’s app, which was created to streamline check-in at clubs, and has evolved into a robust content marketing vehicle that now has added features and higher engagement. “This is your unique experience with our brand,” Dunham said. “We’re interjecting our brand voice to create these moments of delight and love.”

Amid a Privacy Sea-Change, Demonstrate Value

A second alumni panel explored digital targeted marketing, discussing the tension between consumers’ privacy concerns versus their expectations for highly personalized content.

“We should fully expect that there is something coming in the way of regulation, where the US is going to figure out some variant that looks something along the lines of GDPR,” said Dennis Self, ’99, president and general manager for marketing services at Acxiom Corporation. “There’s a big sea-change coming with respect to how consumer data is handled.”

But there’s an upside, Self argued: “Those that have ethical business practices are going to be able to go to market and double down, and say, ‘Look, we’re serving you even better because we’re getting ahead of this.’”

As opt-in becomes even more important, focus on the benefits of your relationship to your consumer, said Quotient Technology CEO Mir Aamir, ’97. “Relevance and value, we’ve seen, trumps everything in the consumer’s mind. The consumer is going to lead the way for us as marketers, in terms of what data they allow and how they allow it.”

The inaugural Chicago Booth Marketing Summit was hosted by the James M. Kilts Center for Marketing, which connects Chicago Booth’s marketing faculty, students, alumni, and corporate partners in their shared belief in the Chicago Approach to marketing. Learn more about the Kilts Center »