Amazon vs. Walmart, Part One

If you care at all about retail, then you’ve probably seen this video in the past week:

It reminds me of another Seattle company’s videos back in the 80’s and 90’s – Microsoft. Bill Gates might not have been a branding genius, but one thing he did really well was understanding that as a technology and business leader, he had to paint a picture of where things were headed. I remember the video shot at his new home where it showed all of the home automations that are just now coming on the market some twenty-plus years later.

This is the role of the leader – to paint a vivid picture of what they see the future is going to be about and where they see things are headed. Let’s call it Business Sci-fi. What it does is inspire a whole host of young entrepreneurs and technologists to begin to make these things a reality. We see it in a movie like Minority Report with it’s interactive screens, personalized advertising and self-driving cars. These movies and videos serve to point us all in a direction, and it inspires people to start making the dream a reality.

The Amazon video did this as well, but for only a very, very small portion of our lives – that portion where we find ourselves in a grocery store, shopping. It is a beautiful vision for this very thin slice, but let’s be clear — this is a very, very thin slice of our lives, and not really the important part. It is doing what Amazon always does, making the transaction easier. It is very cool, and I’ll make a trip up to the NW to see it to be sure, but it falls short where videos like the ones Microsoft or even Corning Glass produced.

Here’s where Walmart has an opportunity.

I wrote last week about my hopes that Walmart would develop out the technology and startup ecosystem here in NWA in order to be able to bring the kinds of solutions to market that Amazon is developing. But I think they could leapfrog Amazon’s vision in a significant way by making this way bigger than a transaction, and beginning to paint a picture of how Walmart truly “saves you money” across a broad swath of your life; even showing areas they are interested in moving into in the short, mid and long term future.

It would be great to see a day in the life video that showed Walmart’s efforts to simplify our lives through home delivery and store pickup, sure. It would be even more interesting to see a rendition of ways that they can save us money, and how they could help us manage that savings so we could truly live better. If they did this for their core audience versus only the urbanites or only the upwardly mobile or affluent, then it could be a larger and more transformational vision than Amazon could ever put forward.

What if it could include an ability to translate savings on product into a savings account that could be used for travel, education, medical or other needs? Showing how they could branch out into financial services, medicine and education—the real big, hairy, audacious problems of our economy today to paraphrase Jim Collins—and use their data, their supply chain and their platform instore and online to provide easy services here would be powerful. Showing a way to turn “caught savings” into actual savings as in dollars in an account that I could then apply to items outside of just the Walmart store.

Walmart’s reach into the wallet of the American household is unprecedented. Their scale and scope as a retailer is without equal, yes, even considering Amazon.com. What would be an inspiring story is to see Goliath become David again. To see Walmart turn their eye toward these big issues like Health Care and Education, and see if they can help people who cannot afford either get a quality enjoyed only by those at the top. It seems like the kind of vision that Sam started with, and the kind that could inspire another generation of entrepreneurs to begin building.