In the past year, American multinational corporation Walmart has been steadily adding to their retail empire, expanding aggressively into the e-commerce frontier. In 2016, Walmart acquired Jet.com, one of the fastest-growing e-commerce companies in the United States, for $3 billion. Since the acquisition of Jet, Walmart has set their sights on online retailers with strong, loyal consumer followings. Now the proprietor of five major online companies and a sixth acquisition in talks, along with the creation of a Silicon Valley technology incubator by the name of Store Number 8, Walmart is making it clear that the concept of “retail” as we know it is about to be dramatically altered.
Pushing to compete with Amazon, the online retailer and production studio that allows you to buy groceries and stream movies all on the same site, Walmart has set its sights on a varied number of companies. Perhaps the most controversial was Jet's acquisition of Modcloth, a feminist-identifying women’s retailer known for their body-positive clothing and diverse range of sizes. Other companies acquired by Walmart include Moosejaw, an outdoor retailer selling products from Patagonia and North Face; shoe retailer Shoebuy; Hayneedle, a furniture company; and as of press time, Walmart is in discussions to purchase men’s retailer Bonobos as well.
The rapid growth of Walmart’s new e-commerce sector will certainly require the creation of additional jobs, allowing the company to square up to Amazon’s 2017 initiative in making 100,000 US-based jobs available to workers. In a press release issued in January, Walmart claimed that “investments in the coming year will support an estimated 34,000 jobs through continued expansion and improvement in the company’s store network, as well as e-commerce services, while providing specialty training for more than 225,000 of the company’s frontline associates.” As in-store retail jobs dwindle in the face of technology and globalization, the development of more e-commerce jobs could aid workers forced out of retail.
With a brand-new executive order signed by President Trump this week, Walmart’s tech incubator could be another answer to the pressure for US-based companies to “Buy American, Hire American”. Store Number 8’s push to cultivate and analyze new retail technology could lead to even more tech-sector jobs in the US for American workers. The practice of hiring foreign tech workers has been a controversial one, with some claiming that the popular H-1B visa program utilized for high-skilled foreign tech workers takes away opportunities for many American workers, especially minority STEM graduates. However, by hiring the black and Latinx STEM graduates who are often overlooked for technology jobs, Walmart’s incubator could quickly be revered as a major influencer for technology in Silicon Valley.
To disrupt Amazon’s stronghold on the digital retail market, Walmart will have to quickly, and smoothly, integrate their new acquisitions into their already-existing brand, both online and off. They’ll also have to continue to match Amazon’s incentive of new jobs with benefits, which may be a tougher feat for a multinational that’s taken on nearly six e-commerce companies in a year. Regardless, Walmart is set to prove that through digital growth and strategy, we’re about to face a brave new world of retail in the US.
Words: Staley Sharples