What we learned at Converge @ Walmart, the biggest retail tech event of the year

The premier all-virtual edition of Converge @ Walmart, held on August 25 and 26, 2021, brought together some of the finest minds from the global retail industry to decode what’s next in tech to shape the future of retail.
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In today’s rapidly evolving marketplace environment, key business issues are converging, with impacts felt across multiple industry sectors. Given the margin pressures within the industry, participants in the retail landscape need tech-fostered innovation.

As they navigate the highly competitive and dynamic landscape, they must keep their eyes on key trends, challenges, and opportunities that may affect their businesses and influence their strategies.

For those looking for perspectives and insights from some of the world’s most forward thinkers in the retail-tech space, the premier edition of Converge @ Walmart delivered a cartful of insights from over 80 key global and local enterprises, entrepreneurs, academics, among others as it helped decode the future of retail. Here are some of the key takeaways.

How to retail the world

“India is one of the most exciting markets in the world. We’re going to see a market that’s north of a trillion dollars, by 2025,” said Doug McMillon, President & CEO, Walmart Inc.. Talking about how change is crucial to be a part of the future, he spoke about Walmart’s Four-in-a-Box strategy to create a very strong cross-functional leadership team. This typically includes a member each from technology, product, design, and business operations, who can provide leadership on every aspect of the product or experience without having to go back to their constituent leadership - creating the ability to be very agile, nimble, and learn continuously.

How retail tech enables Make in India

Speaking about how Walmart—a global company that operates in 23 countries worldwide supports ‘Make in India,’ Judith McKenna, President & CEO, Walmart International, said, “We already source and export more than three billion dollars worth of goods from India. There are domestic opportunities for MSMEs and we aim to bring in world class processes and technology to help export over 10 billion dollars worth of goods annually.”

How to build habit-forming products

“Any business can build habit-forming products,” said author Nir Eyal, talking about building retention in his masterclass. “The hook is an experience designed to connect the user’s problem with your product, with enough frequency to form a habit. You can buy engagement, but not a product,” he added, recommending a cycle of trigger, action, reward and investment.

The role of technology in retail

Technology in retail is transforming the way people shop - with automated delivery, personalisation, secure transactions and much more that benefits customers. While using technology for the greater good, staying incredibly nimble and agile is essential as the retail industry continues to grow rapidly. “Change is at the heart of everything we do. We make sure our infrastructure can support innovation and testing at scale. Data, advanced algorithms and customer experience help us evaluate and iterate better" said Suresh Kumar, EVP – CTO & CDO, Walmart Inc.

Applying technology to sustainability

Sonam Wangchuk, Director, Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh held a riveting conversation on the paradigm shifts in the education system and the role of regenerative technology. Talking about how natural resources are utilised in the remote regions of Ladakh, to pave way to sustainability and bring in eco-solutions, he said, “It’s not enough to be sustainable anymore. We need to be regenerative. We should strive to leave things better than we got them for the next generation.”

Pathbreaking innovations in retail

Ever changing customer expectations, throughout the shopping journey, are pushing retailers to think out of the box and elevate end-to-end customer experience with meaningful innovations. Speaking about how focusing on unmet or unspoken customer wants and delivering at pace is the need of the hour, Hari Vasudev, SVP and Country Head, Walmart Global Tech India said, "At Walmart, we are in constant pursuit to create an experiential and personalised shopping experience, where we turn a customer's shopping fantasy into reality."

How to build digital payments and financial services for a billion Indians

PhonePe very recently became the first player to cross the billion-transaction mark on UPI. As the company builds India’s most comprehensive financial services platform, Sameer Nigam, Founder & CEO, PhonePe and Rahul Chari, CTO & Co-founder, PhonePe, shared valuable insights on launching customer-centric products, how to simplify payment flows, and more. “Stay focussed on what every Indian needs several times a day. Payments is going to take over and it’s important that everybody knows how to use it,” said Sameer, underlining that simplicity is directly proportional to scale.

Building scalable platforms

Platforms have transformed the availability of goods and services for customers by providing access to supply from a plethora of suppliers. In his masterclass, Ankit Tomar, Co-founder & CTO, Bizongo spoke of how to create reliable, secure, flexible and scalable platforms that are built to last. “A platform has to be built first and reused forever. It has to be built agnostic of specific business needs and then used for addressing business needs. It must be eternally programmable and expose hooks to build customisable experiences on top of it,” he said.

How to use AI in retail tech

Artificial Intelligence is increasingly taking over traditional analytics in the data-driven retail industry. In 2021, 28 percent of retailers have deployed AI solutions, compared to that of 4 percent in 2016. Let’s learn from the experts on what changes AI is bringing to the retail industry. Talking on the role of AI in retail tech, Ashwini Asokan, Founder & CEO, Vue.ai said, “We frequently see that less than 1 percent of the data collected is properly analysed. It’s not enough to collect data and sit on it. It’s important to connect your customer and catalogue with your contextual data is what AI in retail is all about.”

Fintech trends and evolving retail experiences

In an effort to provide the best customer experience, the lines between fintech and retail tech are continuously blurring. From being at the tail end of the customer journey in retail, payments moved up the chain where it now decides the customer shopping journey, product discovery, and retail engagement. This segment explores the fintech trends that help enable better retail experiences.

Talking about how Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) is emerging as the fastest growing ecommerce online payment method in India, Lizzie Chapman, Co-founder & CEO, ZestMoney said, “Buy Now Pay Later is exploding all over the world because it's a genuine win-win product benefiting consumers and retailers. And we believe India is going to be the most exciting market."

Ideas sparking the future of retail

As part of the Converge conference, SparkTech Showcase was a tech challenge where shortlisted students and early-stage startups pitched their solutions to a live jury.

The winner from the startup entries was AHODS Technologies which has developed an Advanced Hydrogen On Demand System (AHODS) to eliminate all storage issues of hydrogen fuel and make it feasible to be used in all types of vehicles safely. With patented safe hydrogen technology recognised by Agnii (Startup India) and NASSCOM as one of the biggest innovations of the country, the startup is working with IIT-Delhi in bringing about a clean and green mobility revolution in India and the global automotive industry.

From the student side, TechArmy was adjudged the winner. Their product, Pathik is a smart indoor navigation app that can shorten the waiting queues at checkout counters, helping in faster checkouts, thereby maintaining social distancing too.

How to access the Converge @ Walmart archives

Missed out on registering for Converge @ Walmart? You could still catch archived sessions on the platform here.


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