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Global Digital Retail Innovation From Walmart China And More

“Change (in China) is so dynamic”

Walmart’s SVP of Cross Border Trade, Ben Hassing set the tone for the sixth annual Global E-Commerce Leaders Forum (GELF) NYC program. Hassing’s keynote presentation, “The Local of Global Ecommerce” shared his experience as the head of Ecommerce and Technology for Walmart in China, and how China is on the frontlines of digital retail innovation. One key theme of the GELF NYC program was the “inbound-to-the-US” strategies that recognizes the US is no longer the center of the digital retail universe. Retailers and brands need to look overseas for innovation—to be applied to other markets, including domestically. Hassing’s insights on challenges and solutions in the Chinese market—not only for Walmart but other foreign brands too—reinforced this need.

2019 marks the sixth annual GELF NYC conference, and 13th overall since its inception in 2014. The community is comprised of digital and international executives from global brands and retailers, disruptive digital natives and solution providers to global and cross-border ecommerce.

Hassing’s keynote covered a range of issues he faced as the executive in charge of Walmart’s Chinese ecommerce and omnichannel strategies over a four-year period. He joked that in the five weeks since he left China, the digital retail world has already changed. But his on-the-ground experience was a highlight for most of the conference delegates. Insights he shared included:

  • The evolution of digital retail platforms – a key finding in the soon-to-be-published 2019 GELF China research study, where US-based brands are now managing the complexity of a multi-platform world (e.g., Tmall, WeChat, JD, Little Red Book, TikTok and more).
  • How foreign retailers like Costco and Aldi have entered China via an ecommerce presence on Tmall, before opening physical stores. And the very high expectations of Chinese consumers when it comes to the experience and value they seek—foreign brands or domestic.
  • Chinese Platform-Native brands are starting to open stores (e.g., Three Squirrels, Keepland, Elf Sack). The concept of building a brand, starting as a seller on a marketplace should continue to emerge in China and export to other markets.
  • WeChat’s central role in the lives of consumers, as demonstrated by a video of a 10-year old child navigating a mobile-based purchase and store self-checkout. Equally important to the daily tech immersion is the affordable customer acquisition costs via WeChat, as the rising cost of acquisition is a global phenomena and China is not immune to these business challenges facing all brands.
  • Walmart’s challenges of operating smaller format stores to adapt to rising real estate costs; balanced with the growth of O2O (online-to-offline) ecommerce orders fulfilled through stores. With over 3,000+ orders per day being fulfilled through WM stores in China, Walmart is building strategically placed inventory depots (aka, warerooms) with roughly 3,000 high velocity skus, in order to achieve a 30-minute delivery window expected in a tier one city like Shanghai.

Other highlights of the GELF NYC program included topics that have been growing in importance for many brands in recent years. Online marketplaces continue to garner a growing share of brands’ digital commerce attention, yet brand control remains challenging. Comparisons were made between Latin American marketplaces such as Mercado Libre and Amazon-dominant European markets, and what brands can do to retain price control, and work with marketplace operators to manage unauthorized sellers that are damaging their brands. Southeast Asia was the focus of a “next-generation market” session, featuring two brands who have an international following of customers (Chinese Laundry and MZ Wallace). PVH Corporation shared how they established ecommerce shared services to work across their portfolio of brands, driven by their focus to get closer to their customers and enhance the customer experience. More than 30 speakers shared their experiences with international ecommerce, and a half-day workshop on China provided in-depth conversations among many global brands in attendance.

The next GELF conference will be February 13th in Los Angeles, at the Directors Guild of America Theatres in West Hollywood. For more information about speaking, sponsoring or attending, contact Jim Okamura,

Is global ecommerce a topic of discussion among your management team? Ask us about our management briefings and workshops—whether a one-hour or full-day program. We help all types of retailers and brands understand the rapidly changing digital retail landscape; and the strategies they should consider.

Jim Okamura

Jim Okamura leads the digital practice at McMillanDoolittle. Jim has over 25 years of retail strategy consulting experience, focused on digital retail transformation. His work in organization design and international ecommerce strategies has resulted in industry-leading thinking on retailer best practices and strategic planning.

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