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Walmart has always been the most relentless cost cutter, and it stuck to form with a matter-of-fact audacious goal in its fourth quarter conference call: Cut operating expenses as a percent of sales by more than 1 percentage point over the next 5 years, by "investing in technology and improving productivity in our stores."
But the call also brought a drumbeat of reports from executives on Walmart's mobile and ecommerce efforts, as each operating unit waved its flag in the remaking of Walmart as a digital retailer that combines stores and online. CEO Michael Duke set the tone by talking about new talent:
"We've also added a very talented executive to lead Global eCommerce. Neil Ashe has a strong background in interactive content; has an understanding of converting online customers, which is critical to our eCommerce growth strategy. In the last quarter, we continued to roll out new multichannel capabilities to offer the seamless experience between the store and our eCommerce platforms that customers increasingly want. We will continue to invest in the right talent and capabilities to seize the growth in Global eCommerce."
Rosalind Brewer then touted Sam's Club's iPad app from the fourth quarter, noting that most tablet and smartphone sales are from people using "Click 'n' Pull," which lets people order goods in advance and have them ready for pickup. CFO William Simon said similar programs for Walmart had double-digit same-store growth from a year-ago.
Walmart's been talking about this bricks-and-clicks model for most of the past decade. But this is getting serious.