In a chat with Dallas’ Herb Weitzman, Walmart’s JP Suarez recounted how the retailer embarked on fixing its stores
JP Suarez (right), Walmart International’s executive vice president, chief administration officer and regional CEO, answers questions during a chat with Herb Weitzman.
Walmart has earned much praise under CEO Doug McMillon the past couple of years for learning how to compete in the age of Amazon, but it wasn’t that long ago that the retailer was dangerously content being the world’s largest retailer.
Walmart veteran JP Suarez, in an onstage interview with Dallas retail real estate mogul Herb Weitzman, recounted how the prevailing view was that its stores and groceries were “good enough.”
Walmart thought its low prices and big supercenters were “great” and everything else — including strawberries that had to be eaten that day, employees with little training and the process for in-store pick up of online orders — was “good enough,” he said.
The company thought it had hit on something big when it started in-store pickup of online orders in 2011, he said.
“We had customers who paid online. We told them it was in the store. They came to the store to go get it, and they abandoned the experience 15 % of the time,” Suarez said.
After the first year, the average wait time was still 22 minutes. Customers could see their orders sitting behind the counter, he said. “Then we realized that’s not good enough.”
Walmart started to rethink everything, he said, under Greg Foran, who was CEO of Walmart U.S. from 2014 until November.
“Greg Foran was the first one to tell me that the stores weren’t good enough and they had to get better,” said Suarez, who during the past five years oversaw the building of 1,100 new stores and the addition of curbside grocery pickup to 3200 Walmart stores.
“We were a USD 400 billion company, but he pushed us to be great,” he said. “Good retailers were going away fast, and great ones would stay around.”
Now the strawberries “are great” and the wait time is 11 seconds to get an online order from Walmart’s in-store pickup towers, Suarez said.
Walmart started adding those bright orange towers, which Suarez described as ATMs for general merchandise, to D-FW stores in 2017.
When it started curbside grocery pickup in 2015, Walmart underestimated the size of the business and is now going back to add more automation, he said.
But Suarez is moving on.
As of last week, he is Walmart International chief administration officer, executive vice president and regional CEO for Walmart stores in Chile and Argentina.
And after a transition period ends this month, Foran will leave Walmart to return to his native New Zealand to become CEO of Air New Zealand. Walmart has a deep bench that includes Sam’s Club CEO John Furner, who has been named Walmart U.S. CEO.
Suarez and Weitzman appeared during the Weitzman Annual D-FW Retail Forecast breakfast at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Suarez’s parting idea in his conversation with Weitzman was that autonomous vehicles are going to eliminate the difficulties now associated with home deliveries.
“That will be a game changer,” he said, and he told the audience, they need to start thinking about the parking lots of the future. “If you make it easy, customers will send their cars to pick up their stuff.”
1 JP Suarez (right), Walmart International’s executive vice president, chief administration officer and regional CEO, answers questions during a chat with Herb Weitzman.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)
2 Walmart’s JP Suarez (right) answers questions during a chat with Herb Weitzman during the Weitzman Annual D-FW Retail Forecast breakfast at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)