Women to Watch

Women to Watch: Cindy Davis, Wal-Mart Stores

After Consistently Growing Sales at Sam's Club With Member Insights, Expert Looks to Use Same Approach to Help Sibling Walmart

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Walmart may have had eight straight quarters of declining same-store sales, but it's been a far different story for corporate sibling Sam's Club, which has grown sales consistently through the period and most recently at an accelerated pace.

Cindy Davis
Cindy Davis

So it's likely no coincidence that in seeking its first executive to glean consumer insights globally across all divisions, Wal-Mart Stores earlier this year turned to Cindy Davis, who for the past two years had been exec VP-membership, marketing and e-commerce at Sam's Club.

Now, as exec VP-global customer insights, Ms. Davis continues reporting to Sam's Club CEO Brian Cornell, whose chain has easily beaten the top-line growth of Walmart and, in the first quarter, was the only Wal-Mart division to grow both comparable-store sales and operating earnings on a constant-currency basis. "At Sam's Club, we've seen the power of using member insights to inform merchandising," Ms. Davis said in an email. "This approach is definitely transferable across the entire corporation."

Exactly how is the rub. Sam's can operate off a rich database of customer-purchase data. Walmart can't. While rivals such as Kroger Co., Macy's and Target also have used loyalty programs based on frequent shopper-card or store credit-card data, Walmart doesn't have a similar database, though it does use extensive surveys of customers and, increasingly, input from other analytic providers such as Acxiom and SymphonyIRI. But card programs, generally built around discounts and special offers, are at odds with the "everyday low price" philosophy Walmart has long embraced.

Ms. Davis didn't say how she hopes to bridge that data gap, but did say: "We will leverage technology to better understand our customers in a way that is completely consistent with our EDLP model. This is one of the benefits of building this enhanced capability today vs. a decade ago."

Ms. Davis, a veteran of Harrah's, Pizza Hut, Doubletree and Starwood Hotels, Rapp Collins, BBDO and TracyLocke, is "one of the most driven people I've ever met," said Dawn Maire, chief strategy officer of Rockfish Interactive in Bentonville, Ark., who has worked with her at Sam's and on prior stops in her career. "She has an insatiable appetite for innovation that leads to progress. She's always looking for what's next, five steps ahead of everyone else."

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