Walmart “trying hard to prove it is one of the cool kids” in e-commerce

Fascinating New York Times story this weekend on Walmart’s battle to catch up in the likes of Amazon in e-commerce. A few choice quotes:

  • “The country’s largest retailer, which for years didn’t blink at would-be competitors, is now under such a threat from Amazon that it is frantically playing catch-up by learning the technology business…For the first time in decades, Walmart, which drove company after company out of business, has a competitor it sounds a little scared of.”
  • “The company has had a small presence near Silicon Valley for more than a decade, but until recently, engineers in the area barely knew it existed…It is trying hard to prove it is one of the cool kids. For example, at press events in Bentonville, Ark., Wal-mart’s headquarters, the menu tends to be ham sandwiches, chips and iced tea. At a recent event in San Bruno, it was white asparagus panna cotta with house-smoked salmon tartar, morel mushroom macaroons and charcuterie from a whole pig. Borrowing a page from Google and Twitter, the company offers hack days when engineers can work on whatever they want.”
  • “Analysts say that while Walmart’s scale and profitability give it an edge, its Web efforts still lag Amazon’s… Mr. Nemer of Wells Fargo called many of the efforts, like lockers and same-day shipping, ”blocking and tackling” without real relevance to Walmart’s dominance, or inferiority, in the new world of shopping.”

Also fascinating: Morning News Beat‘s take on Walmart’s efforts:

It is sort of interesting to see the Amazon vs. Walmart battle as one between whole pig charcuterie vs. ham sandwiches. But that sort of captures it, doesn’t it?

I have to admit that I’m not really a believer. At least, not yet.

In this story, it is this line that grabs me: “Borrowing a page from Google and Twitter, the company offers hack days when engineers can work on whatever they want.”

Maybe Walmart can abide that, but that just strikes me as a kind of cultural dissonance that is hard to resolve. After all, this is a company where the first instinct is to fire an employee who helps a woman being attacked in one of its parking lots because it is against company policy … with little understanding of how this is going to play on the public stage, much less how it seems to be so wrong.

But we’ll see. Maybe they can pull it off. But I still think that it is a pretty good bet that before 2015, Walmart.com’s operations will get moved to Bentonville. Which will tell us all much about the whole pig charcuterie vs. ham sandwich battle turned out.

What do you think?