· 5 min read
Anshu Bhardwaj hadn’t slept, both her phone and laptop needed a charge, and she had 10 minutes before her flight from Toronto to San Francisco. Then she received the call she’d been waiting for: The Salesforce-Walmart partnership could proceed.
Bhardwaj and her team had been working on a big-ticket deal with Salesforce to help commercialize Walmart’s tech and offer it as a paid business service (think: an early-stage version of something like Amazon fulfillment and delivery services). The talks had begun months earlier, but it was now June, and to Bhardwaj, progress had seemed to stall.
The pre-flight phone call kicked off months of turning a “mental handshake” deal with Salesforce into a formal one: A contract that rolled Walmart’s tech tools for retailers into Salesforce’s suite of products, starting with Store Assist—which helps businesses turn store locations into fulfillment centers—and GoLocal, a tool for coordinating customer pickup and delivery. Walmart’s purported goal: Become a services provider for other retailers.
The companies announced the retail tech partnership last month, highlighting Walmart’s evolving business strategy. Pre-partnership, Walmart had completed 830 million orders through Store Assist and 3 million through GoLocal, according to Bhardwaj. Walmart declined to comment on revenue forecasts or pricing structure.
“This one announcement is just one piece that’s enabling this much larger flywheel and much grander ambition,” Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, told Tech Brew. “Ultimately, Walmart exists in a very thin-margin business: They’re a low-price leader in retail. The more that they become a services company, and the more of their revenue that comes from digital advertising, the more their bottom line pops.”
Firing up the flywheel
As Walmart’s Senior VP of tech commercialization and strategy, Bhardwaj is in charge of not only marketing the company’s tech, but also designing its tech strategy with Walmart CTO Suresh Kumar. It’s a role that’s been full of learning curves, she told us in a January interview.
“Think about it: Me coming into this role where my boss leads tech for all of Walmart Inc.,” Bhardwaj said. “And think of it as 17 different tech companies combined into one: We’re our own cloud provider company, we’re our own health tech company, we’re our own financial services company, we’re our own real-estate company, we’re our own search company. Each of these functions are very, very deep, because you have to support a $600 billion business. For me, evaluating everything across that whole spectrum—I had to spend a lot of sleepless nights just coming up to terms.”
Bhardwaj was previously focused on tech strategy alone, but stepped into the tech commercialization part of her role around three years ago, which she says involved building the small team “from scratch.”
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“I haven’t been at a startup, and this is as close to a startup as it’s getting within Walmart,” she said.
During the first year, they spent time brainstorming about product market fit, evaluating which of Walmart’s tech tools they felt was best poised to take off, settling on Store Assist after months of deliberation. Next, they had to ready the tools for the external market, which involved market research and brainstorming ways to scale the products.
“When we hit Covid two-and-a-half years ago, [that] is when all of this really came to life,” Bhardwaj said. Later, she added, “When we were ready, and obviously we were doing our own market research and we were getting positive feedback, then we were like, ‘Okay, how do we scale this and get the maximum impact that we can, so that we can take this out to businesses of all sizes, versus focusing on one or two?’...That’s how we basically identified working with Salesforce would be a great idea.”
The strategy seems to align with Walmart’s much larger strategy push to build a flywheel with three key ingredients, according to Lipsman: media, commerce, and advertising.
“Walmart has been building a flywheel strategy…modeled after Amazon’s, and at the moment they’re doing a pretty credible job of executing on that,” Lipsman said. “It doesn’t have Amazon’s scale in a lot of areas, so the path to being able to provide some of these services may need to run through partners. So I think you’ll see partnerships—Salesforce in this instance, [and] I think there are other aspects of the flywheel that they’ll need to build on the media side of the equation.”
Bhardwaj foresees a number of ways the Walmart-Salesforce partnership could expand beyond the current two tech offerings. She also thinks there's room for growth in features that make the end-to-end experience more. more seamless for retailers—e.g., native checkout on social media sites, different forms of delivery, and more.
“I think about just the sheer number of technologies that is going on behind the scenes,” Bhardwaj said, adding, “The retail world is changing. It’s a combination of your regular, everyday tech, combined with cloud, combined with AR, VR, extended reality, autonomous vehicles, robotics, machine learning, computer vision, big data—all of that combined is making the retail experience very easy for the customer but extremely complicated, in the backend, to manage.”
Walmart, she said, is “combining all of these together.”