Last month, reports surfaced that Walmart, the world's largest retailer by revenue, was considering testing a peer-to-peer delivery network. It was a tempting idea—a way for Walmart to crowdsource retail. But would customers actually make deliveries in exchange for store discounts, as reports indicated? Today, at Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference in New York City, Walmart digital SVP Gibu Thomas was asked whether there was any truth to the rumors.
"We test a lot of things," he said. "We've since moved on to unmanned drones."
Thomas was clearly joking, but Thomas and Steve Yankovich, VP of innovation and new ventures at eBay, did speak seriously about the future of retail.
As two of the world's largest companies, with tentacles in a slew of retail verticals, both Walmart and eBay are forever at risk of being disrupted. For Walmart, that risk might lie in digital disruption, while for online giant eBay, its acquisition of GSI Commerce and Milo indicate its interest in innovation in the brick and mortar space. Thomas and Yankovich are there to make sure Walmart and eBay are causing disruption, rather than being disrupted themselves.
While customer-to-customer delivery might not be ready for primetime, Walmart's Thomas indicated it could be on the horizon. When pressed, he stressed that Walmart is always testing new services and solutions. But, he clarified, "It has to be a really mass market idea that can scale." Will peer-to-peer networks, which have fueled the success of a number of startups (including Airbnb and TaskRabbit), find success at Walmart? It's too early to say.
At eBay, Yankovich said the company has been experimenting with its eBay Now service, which promises same-day delivery, often in an hour. He made a bold prediction: that in roughly a half-decade, personalization will be so integrated with the shopping experience that digital tools might be able to make purchasing decisions for us, based on our personal data.
"In five years, we can have a virtual shopping assistant as if you have a person who is an assistant who would know you would buy that bag the moment it came out," he said. "So they'd buy it. It would be no-click buying."
No-click buying? Years ago, Amazon introduced one-click buying. Many retailers have since mimicked that check-out system to making purchasing items as frictionless of an experience as possible. But removing that one click when shopping?
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and eBay CEO John Donahoe can dream, can't they?
Listen to the complete conversation between Fast Company Senior Writer Danielle Sacks, STORY founder Rachel Schechtman, Walmart Senior VP of Mobile and Digital Gibu Thomas, and eBay VP of Innovation and New Ventures Steve Yankovich:[Cardboard box Image: kuppa via Shutterstock]