Walmart checks out Asda's UK ecommerce success

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan August 15, 2013
Walmart may dominate the offline grocery retail business in the US, but it has a lot to learn from its UK cousin Asda when it comes to building a powerful ecommerce offering.

With operations in 27 countries worldwide, Walmart is of course the biggest retailer in the world when measured by profit

It ranks No. 1 on the Fortune 500 with a mammoth $466 billion in sales last year and more than 10,000 stores worldwide, including over 4,000 in the US.

The firm is also a major investor in retail technology. It's also long had the (never willingly talked about) biggest SuccessFactors instance in the world and is building the world's largest private cloud.

For all that though it's never really had a huge online presence. According to MKM Partners Senior Analyst Patrick McKeever, Walmart's online sales make up only about 2% of Walmart's overall sales.

But crucially those sales are increasing about 30% every quarter and could top $10 billion this year,

Low percentages

The relatively low current percentage isn't uncommon in the US market where online sales remain a low part of the overall grocery market.

Fitch Ratings estimates put online sales at roughly 1% of an overall US grocery market worth $631 billion US grocery market while Citigroup comes up with the same percentage but estimates the total market to be $850 billion.

Walmart may dominate the offline market, but Citigroup ranks it behind three others online - Peapod with an 8.8% share, FreshDirect with a 5.7% share, and Safeway with a 3.2% share.

But the competitive landscape is likely to change over the coming 12 months as Amazon expands its own Amazon Fresh food delivery service to 20 new cities after trialing the initiative in Seattle and Los Angeles. San Francisco is next up with plans to operate in 40 regions by the end of 2014.

Against that, Walmart's ambitions are relatively modest so far, although its Asda operation in the UK has considerable skin in the online game, being able to service it reckons some 98% of the UK population.

As well as basic grocery delivery services, Asda offers Asda Direct, and a Click-And-Collect program. There is, perhaps, much that the UK arm can teach its US parent.

It's certainly the case that Walmart wants to see an uptick in online business. Wal-Mart US CEO Bill Simon confirms:

"We continue to integrate our e-commerce platform with our stores to create a unique shopping experience.

"Our physical presence represents a significant competitive advantage for our business."

Man in charge

The person driving the Walmart ecommerce push is Neil Ashe, lured across last year from his previous role as the head of CBS Interactive (CBS) to be head of global eCommerce. He explains:

"We’re building best-in-class ecommerce capabilities, and only we can combine those with the assets of the world’s largest retailer. The result is a new approach to commerce that lets customers shop when, where and how they want across online, mobile and stores.

"To support the strategies, we’re investing in three key areas: further developing our global technology platform; growing services and capabilities in our four key markets; and developing our next-generation fulfillment network that integrates dedicated online assets with Walmart’s transportation fleet, distribution centers and stores."

Neil Ashe

To support this, Walmart has been bringing on board the necessary talent to execute on its plans:

"During the second quarter, we had a hiring blitz which ramped up our visibility in the Bay area and added nearly 200 associates. We saw an offer acceptance rate well over 90%. People in Silicon Valley are excited to come to Walmart."

The firm has also closed four acquisitions - Tasty Labs, OneOps, Inkiru and Torbit - which has brought additional technical capability to build out an underlying commerce platform for Walmart. Ashe states:

"We continue to develop and release elements of our technology platform, like search and the home page. We’re pleased with the progress to date and excited the experience for our customers is already improving as a result.

"The platform is also at the core of expanding our product assortment, especially in the US. We doubled the number of products on in the first half of the year through our own inventory and through new marketplace sellers. We expect to double it again in the second half of the fiscal year."

Walmart is using its offline footprint in alignment with online fulfillment centers:

"We are now using 35 stores as additional nodes in our online fulfilment network. Those stores now handle a double-digit percentage of orders, and the majority of those are delivered in two days or less at a significantly lower cost.

"The Pick Up Today option gives customers the ability to buy an item online and pick it up in a store that same day. We have more than tripled the items available for Pick Up Today since the beginning of the year.

"And, we have developed a new capability that automatically searches our broader inventory for an item if that item isn’t available in a customer’s primary store. That has significantly improved our fill rate."

Sure enough, Ashe sees Asda's UK experience as vital in shaping Walmart's strategic direction with a test 'super-center' in a San Francisco pilot scheme delivering customer experience dividends:

"Many of these are new customers. 75%  of the customers say they would have purchased through another retailer other than Walmart. And, 83%  would recommend Walmart grocery delivery."

Customer experience is all important, says Ashe citing increased ecommerce activity at Walmart's Sam's Club subsidiary as a case in point:

"We’ve been working together to enhance the customer experience across online, mobile and clubs. We built a new mobile app for Sam’s Club that helped increase the average basket by almost 25 percent over the last quarter. We also made enhancements on the mobile site that helped double the number of orders from the last quarter."

Internationally, work continues to enhance online programs with mobile activity on the rise in China via Walmart's Yihaodian arm. Ashe says Yihaodian:


saw 10 times growth in mobile sales in the first half over last year and won a Cannes Media Lions award for its boundless Yihaodian 2.0 app. Yihaodian overall continues to grow quickly. We are pleased that we have more than doubled the number of active site users in the past year, meaning those customers who made at least one purchase in the last 12 months.

"In the UK, we just completed a major relaunch of the Asda site. In addition to a new experience, we made some foundational changes that allow us to enhance the site much more quickly and easily. Major redesigns like this one take a bit of time for customers to get used to the enhancements, so we’re pleased to see initial site satisfaction is up 9 percent versus the previous site.

"We are the largest traffic consumer e-commerce site in Brazil and our revenue growth – led by electronics and appliances – is more than double the rate of the total Brazilian e-commerce market according to eMarketer."

Ashe concludes:

"We are making great progress on our core strategies. We are continuing to invest for the long-term and are building the talent base, the technology platform and the fulfilment networks we need to serve customers around the globe seamlessly across online, mobile and stores in a way that only Walmart can."


As a Brit who's tried out all of the online grocery delivery services in the UK, the idea of the lack of a big van turning up outside my front door with the weekly shopping has fast become my main 'first world problem'.

That said, when I lived in the US, I used to love the offline supermarket experience - much more satisfying that the equivalent at home.

Walmart's in an interesting position here. An offline market leader faced with competition not only from internet-only businesses, but also the looming threat from the online giant that is Amazon.

Lots to play for over the coming months.




Yihaodian image: WPP

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