Is Walmart tech? Walmart would certainly like you to think so, with a recent earnings report filled with phrases like "integrated omnichannel strategy" and "seamless, digital customer experience." The company makes a decent case for itself, from its 2016 acquisition of online retail site Jet.com to its more recent forays into fintech and data monetization. Many of the merchandising monolith's movements in the tech space have been seen as direct attempts to catch up to Amazon's domination on the ecommerce front, but does competing with a tech company automatically mean that Walmart's also made the leap to tech?
As tech becomes more and more intrinsic to the way all retail companies do business, it becomes harder to stamp one of the biggest big box stores with the "tech company" label it's clearly gunning for. So is Walmart a tech company that does retail, or just a retail company that's gotten very good at tech? Does eating a tech company or chasing a tech company make you a tech company? Which of our staffers is no longer allowed to show face at more than one Walmart location? Read below to find out.
Jane Seidel: is walmart tech?
Megan Rose Dickey: @Meg has strong feelings about this
Meg Morrone: I do!
Meg: Walmart bought Jet.com, which is tech.
Meg: the end
Meg: I really am the best conversation ender. I am sorry.
Megan: wait wha
Ben Pimentel: They want to be in fintech for sure.
Janko Roettgers: There's also Walmart Labs, which I guess got rebranded to Walmart Global Tech?
Megan: i feel misled by meg
Karyne Levy: why are they doing all these tech things? are they a brick-and-mortar Amazon?
Kevin McAllister: remember when they almost bought tiktok?
Biz Carson: they are brick-and-mortar amazonified
Ben Brody: I wanna be a contrarian here, but Meg is right and Walmart is totally tech. I do love that it's not just "experience" tech, between you and and maybe a pair of headphones. It's the place to get the headphones, and maybe some Cheetos while I'm at it... (Anyone else forget lunch?)
Tom Krazit: amazon used tech to out-walmart walmart, which led walmart to invest (a lot) in tech. they basically helped microsoft set up a whole cloud retailing thing, which is tech, so they're tech
Jane: @Kevin i do not remember this? ....???
Biz: ok i'll be the one to come down in the camp of not tech here. Tech-enabled retail does not make a tech business.
Owen Thomas: So there's a lot of history here. I'm reading Walmart's 2000 annual report, where they talk about establishing what was then known as "Wal-Mart.com" as a "separate company," "located in California, allowing us to attract the best possible Internet and technology talent."
Joe Williams: Everything Tom said. And esp now that they are selling their software to other companies.
Ben Brody: OMG Kevin I forgot about that! I want to also say I wouldn't buy charcoal briquettes from someone on TikTok, but maybe I would?
Anna Kramer: yea i feel like Amazon is objectively tech even without its AWS business, making Walmart tech too, since Walmart is otherwise their biggest competitor
Owen: A lot of companies did this in the dotcom boom, but they folded their ecommerce spinoffs/subsidiaries back into the mother ship. Walmart kept Walmart.com separate, and based in California, for a long time.
Nick Statt: Which chain retail stores aren't tech though?
Tom: dollar store
Nick: Ha that is a good example
Joe: To play devil's avocado, would you then consider Target tech? A lot of retailers are following in Walmart's footstep. Is there a boundary between a tech-forward retailer and a tech company that does retail?
Owen: But that also meant it wasn't well-integrated into the retail operation. Walmart thought of Walmart.com as essentially another store in the chain. Classic retail management thinking.
Owen: Target for a while completely outsourced its ecommerce to Amazon. So they definitely weren't tech, at least for that period.
Karyne: i think target is trying to be tech, and then walmart is tech. when target tries to buy tiktok and does something with fintech, we can talk about target being tech
Owen: That deal happened because Amazon was getting clobbered in Christmas toy sales and Target had access to toy supply. And Target didn't have to spend money on its own ecommerce site.
Joe: omg, I forgot about TikTok. That was such a mess.
Owen: That was a long time ago, though. Target ended the deal and is now pretty good at ecommerce and in-store tech. I love that you can find exactly where something is in the store using its app.
Karyne: well i just googled, because google is my savior, and walmart has a system called Alphabot.
Owen: But I think we agree that doing ecommerce well is just retail table stakes at this point. It doesn't make you tech.
Joe: Target seems more Pinterest-y though.
Chris Fong: when i think walmart, i think 1. retail, 2. logistics. aren't logistics and supply chain management a form of tech?
Anna: a Pinterest-Target mashup would be brilliant.
Jane: yeah i'm extremely fascinated by the (somewhat classist?) associations people hold with walmart v target
Owen: Chris, you're verging dangerously into "everything is tech" territory there
Karyne: i thought they already have a target-pinterest mashup!
Ben Brody: You foolishly invited the antitrust guy to this thing, so I'm going to point out that how much Walmart is tech is like... sort of a big HUGE threshold question in an competition analysis of Amazon cough cough FTC.
Joe: Ooo that's a good point Chris: logistics is probably one of its tech-iest operations.
Owen: And Amazon staged a massive raid on Walmart logistics talent in its early days.
Owen: So they were clearly tech enough for Amazon to poach from.
Meg: @Megan has reminded me that I once (a very long time ago) told her that I didn't think that Walmart was tech. I had a relative that did logistics for Wal-Mart.com in 2000 and was very into it being tech. And I didn't think it was. That failed, so they just bought the one company that was once a real competitor to Amazon (Jet.com) and that's what made it tech.
Megan: ahahah to be very clear
Owen: Do you cross a threshold into being tech by having some level of competence in tech?
Karyne: buying a company that does tech you want because you failed at it … is very tech
Caitlin Wolper: once i went to a Jet press event and hilaria baldwin was their celeb
Megan: meg's definition of a long time ago is july 26
Owen: It's not enough to do tech, you have to be good at it, too?
Karyne: or buy it
Owen: Much of Silicon Valley is barely tech by this standard
Jane: omg caitlin what was her accent like in real life
Joe: OMG Caitlin.
Karyne: owen, next week we'll do "is silicon valley tech"
Caitlin: just truly indescribable
Megan: what's a hilaria baldwin?
Caitlin: oh do i have articles to send you
Biz: can we take a vote at the end of these things? because i'm still in the not tech camp and i'm not swayed by any of your arguments
Ben Brody: oh megan you missed one of... late 2020's? most delightfully frivolous news cycles clearly
Jane: we can absolutely take a vote, if you're into losing publicly
Tim Grieve: Not suggesting anyone here thinks like this, but is it possible that people view Walmart as "not tech" because it feels so mid-America and isn't aimed at wealthy elites? I mean, Walmart and Warby Parker both sell eyeglasses, but a Warby Parker store feels like it's a part of tech culture, and Walmart not so much.
Owen: That goes into what Jane was mentioning about classism
Jane: tim that's what i was thinking about with the class connotations of walmart vs amazon!
Megan: ah yes, classism
Karyne: the best indicator of what is tech
Tom: it's not tech unless it was created in the san francisco bay area, otherwise it's just sparkling data
Biz: ok i love walmart and have been kicked out of a few. But i still don't think it's tech
Jane: kicked out?
Megan: spill biz
Karyne: wait biz
Megan: what did u do
Karyne: you can't just like drop that into the thread and not elaborate
Owen: Part of it is simply real estate and geography; Walmart likes to build big stores, cheaply. It's hard to build those in urban centers (though Walmart has been trying). Tech has historically been an urban-elite kind of industry.
Jane: biz like, logs off to go eat a sandwich after telling us that she has gotten kicked out of multiple walmarts
Ben Brody: yea tech is not just a collection of fonts on the logo but more imptly, BIZ WHAT?!
Tom: did a robot kick you out of the walmart? because that would be tech
Biz: it was like the only place that was open late in high school so where else were you supposed to go!?
Ben Brody: i'm laughing so hard rn
Biz: you can race bikes in walmart
Karyne: you loitered in a walmart!
Biz: then it was the scooters
Biz: like a whole obstacle course you can set up
Becca Evans: is Biz racing scooters in Walmart tech
Biz: anyways, my mother is going to read this and be horrified
Ben Brody: the. SCOOTERS?!
Biz: hi mom
Meg: hi Biz's mom! She turned out ok.
Anna: wait i just wanna know more about Biz's teenage years now
Caitlin: was biz's adolescence tech
Tim: and if it's any consolation, I was thrown out of a CVS – and not when I was a teenager.
Tim: but i digress
Chris: if costco bought a low-tier tech company, would costco become tech?
Tom: so that's why they keep the cough medicine locked up
Becca: would love elaboration
Jane: new column in which everyone just lists places where they've been kicked out
Jane: wait no. pause. any final comments on is walmart tech? or should we take a vote and wrap?
Jane: i feel like jeff probst. it's time to vote
Becca: so we're just not gonna hear tim's CVS story then
Tim: i'm sorry i derailed the conversation. totally out of character.
Jane: you wouldn't interrupt jeff probst would you?
Jane: pls emoji react to this if you think walmart is tech
Jane: pls emoji react to this if you think walmart is NOT tech
☝️4Biz: i'm still a no. at this point, having an online presence, issuing a credit card, etc. is just table stakes for retailers. I do believe Walmart is doing a teensy bit more than your average retailer when it comes to tech, but I would not say it is a tech company. Just a retail company that is really good at the technology part of its business
Meg: can we vote for both?
Karyne: biz, you just hate it because they escorted you out
Owen: Walmart isn't tech but it definitely was a dotcom at one point.
Karyne: in the immortal words of jeff probst: "the tribe has spoken"
Jane: omg this is basically a tie..... next we'll move making fire
Megan: nah there needs to be a supermajority
Megan: those are the rules!
Jane: that literally is not how survivor works
Megan: but like
Megan: this literally is not survivor
Biz: i feel like jane should be the next jeff probst