Walmart Goes Local on Facebook, Launches Store-Level Messaging

Poses No Threat to Circulars, Radio at This Time, Says CMO

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Walmart is launching a Facebook app that customizes marketing for each of its nearly 3,600 U.S. stores, allowing tailored communications about local deals, events or limited-distribution products.

Eventually, Walmart also hopes to use the My Local Walmart app to grow its site-to-store e-commerce program and evolve it into an individualized marketing program, said Stephen Quinn, chief marketing officer for Walmart U.S., in a telephone press conference.

Stephen Quinn
Stephen Quinn

But for now, the focus is "to allow us to make our stores relevant locally at scale," he said.

He declined to disclose financial considerations or exactly how Walmart will promote the app, but he said it would likely draw on the giant retailer's traditional media mix, including in stores. He also said the partnership includes an unspecified amount of advertising with Facebook.

The deal brings together two of the biggest institutions in U.S. marketing -- Walmart, which gets about 150 million shoppers monthly, and Facebook, with 165 million U.S. users.

The overlap is huge, but it's centered on Walmart's 9.4 million Facebook fans. So, at least for now, Mr. Quinn doesn't foresee the app displacing circulars it distributes via newspapers or direct mail or the local radio advertising it does around such events as Halloween.

"Over time, I guess if it became a really huge scale effort, it might have that impact," Mr. Quinn said. "But right now it's not really impacting us in that way, because it's really an extension of what we ought to be doing anyway, which is paying attention to what customers want."

One reason Walmart wanted to get the app out before the holidays, Mr. Quinn said, is that it lets users download maps of their local stores to their smartphones to find Black Friday-discounted merchandise in the store.

Much of the information directed at local store shoppers will be based on data analysis by marketers and merchants at the retailer's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, he said, but there will also be "a local override" that lets store managers customize content.

But the app will also allow Walmart to tailor marketing based on local weather events or such things as Nascar races and fishing tournaments, Mr. Quinn said. At least initially, such communications will come only about twice a week to avoid "bombarding" customers, he added.

Carolyn Everson
Carolyn Everson

"The unique thing here is that Walmart has taken it to another level," said Carolyn Everson, VP-global marketing solutions for Facebook. "They're not just having a local tab on their fan page where people can find their nearest retailer by putting in a ZIP code. There's actually going to be fundamentally different business being done and a different relationship at the local level because of being able to launch new products at the local level" or offering localized news about savings and events.

My Local Walmart won't permit what Ms. Everson called "frictionless open-graph sharing" of what people are shopping for or buying, a la Spotify data on who's listening to what that goes out over Facebook's new ticker. But Walmart does hope the app generates more "likes" of products to increase the viral effect of its fan base.

The announcement comes as Walmart Stores prepares for its annual analyst meeting Oct. 12 and the retailer seeks to end a series of nine straight quarters of declining same-store sales. But it stops short of what some Walmart watchers and analysts have openly called for -- a direct answer to the increasingly sophisticated database-driven shopper loyalty programs of many competitors.

"It will be very personalized" eventually, Mr. Quinn said of My Local Walmart. "Right now we're just focused on making it a very localized experience.

"Our customers have been asking for this," he said, adding that "loud and clear" Facebook feedback the past two years was among factors that recently led the retailer to reinstate layaway.

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