"European retailers can learn from Walmart" (Peter Hinssen, nexxworks)

Peter Hinssen, nexxworks
(c) Rob Clayton

Large, traditional companies can also reinvent themselves successfully. Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, shows how it should be done. Peter Hinssen is impressed, but warns: Europe must do more than step up.


Winning mood

Nexxworks technology entrepreneur, author, keynote speaker and innovation expert Peter Hinssen is sometimes called a doom thinker, but he promises to show his most positive side at the upcoming RetailDetail Congress. There are indeed many retailers who are struggling today, but he also sees inspiring examples of companies that are definitely focusing on "the day after tomorrow". Walmart is such a company, he says.

“I had the privilege of witnessing the transformation process that Walmart is going through. I am very enthusiastic about the ambitions that the retailer formulates, but also about the results they achieve. The company is of course an icon from the last century, they have been hit hard by the rise of online. Yet they now manage to pick up again. Not many traditional retailers succeed. But the companies that know how to transform themselves are coming back stronger than ever.” It's an inspiring story, because Walmart is the largest commercial company in the world. You don't get such a tanker turned around smoothly. “And yet: last quarter, their online revenue grew by 43%. They are now in a winning mood. They have an enormous firepower.”


Culture change

What can our SMEs learn from a giant like Walmart? After all, that company has enormous resources. “It is primarily about a cultural change. That is the essence. See, the concept of customer centric was not new to the company. But what does that actually mean? The customer was already in charge in the twentieth century. Back then, it was about cost leadership: just like Colruyt, Walmart focused on a lowest price guarantee. Today the customer is still the boss, but he has changed and no longer wants to save the last penny on a pack of cornflakes. Time has become the most important thing. And Walmart has understood that. The retailer was already very active with e-commerce. People could place an order in a few seconds, but to pick up their groceries they had to queue and wait for a long time in the back of the store. In this way the entire online experience was actually destroyed. Walmart then decided to install thousands of automatic pick-up towers, robots where customers can pick up their groceries in seconds. That kind of improvement, that's what it's all about."

The lesson that Walmart teaches us is that you have to put your full weight behind it, says Hinssen. “You have to go 100% for it. This applies to large groups, but also to local players. Just look at Colruyt: that company is firmly committed, and with good results. If you do it, don't do it on the side."


Clock is ticking…

These robots from Walmart are, remarkably enough, of European origin: an Estonian company has developed them. But we don't see them in Europe yet. “I’m afraid that we will have to put a little more effort into this. If you look at the experience in China, that is quite impressive today. Europe is fragmented and is in splendid isolation. We are not clever enough to be fast enough."

Hinssen criticizes the defensive attitude that dominates the old continent. “European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is proud of the fines that she imposes on Google. But we are not going to make it that way, imposing fines is not a solution. The entire GDPR legislation is a blow in the water, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Why don't we have a Google in Europe? A new cold war is approaching. And it will force us to make choices. We have held on to the Western bloc for 70 years. How do we look to the east now? There is a revolution going on. Chinese people coming to Silicon Valley think they are visiting a museum… Well, what is Belgium then? The clock is ticking..."

Peter Hinssen will explain how retailers can reinvent themselves in a rapidly changing world at the RetailDetail Congress, which takes place on April 25 in San Marco Village (Schelle). Visitors can choose from three themed afternoon programs with presentations from retailers such as Switch, FNG, Kinepolis, and many others. On the main stage, a number of leading CEOs will unfold their war plan in the evening, under the theme "Back to Attack": Christian Van Thillo (De Persgroep) and Elise Vanaudenhove (Euro Shoe Group / Bristol) will also be present. Through this link you will find more information about the event and you can order your tickets.