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A Wal-Mart leader urged suppliers to provide more information on their products before this year's Christmas-shopping season to help boost online sales.

Ram Rampalli, Wal-Mart's director of omnichannel content technology and strategy, said during a webinar organized by retail-marketing firm WhyteSpyder that "one of the biggest bottlenecks is getting high-quality product content" from suppliers.

Rampalli said Wal-Mart has invested in the technology to handle an influx of data so that manufacturers need only send information requested and Wal-Mart will have it on the Wal-Mart website in "a matter of seconds."

The webinar -- Winning Black Friday -- touched on major trends in global retail and shopper behavior including the searchability of products on digital platforms and mobile devices.

"We have an 'omnishopper.' They're researching online, researching on the device, buying it wherever they buy it," Eric Howerton, CEO of WhyteSpyder, told about 100 webinar participants.

Field Agent, a Fayetteville-based company that does mobile research and collects retail data, reported that 84 percent of 500 consumers surveyed researched products online before purchases, and 95 percent said they would be more likely to buy if product pages were good.

"The dot-com war is over. Amazon won the dot-com race. Clear. Over. Done. The new race is called the omnichannel retail race," Howerton said in an interview. "Amazon and Wal-Mart are thick in it, but Wal-Mart is three-fourths of the way closer to it than Amazon. And the only thing they need to win is getting data and content from suppliers. Wal-Mart already has the brick and mortar in place, something that Amazon won't be able to get anytime soon."

Howerton estimates that 90 to 95 percent of Wal-Mart's online suppliers lack the high-quality content and data Wal-Mart is requesting on the 9 million items available online. His company specializes in producing and delivering content for manufacturers.

"Wal-Mart is Wal-Mart because of their stores. So their suppliers have primarily been focused on stores. And the lion's share of their sales are still in store." However, Howerton says, "They don't understand what their shoppers are doing. ... They aren't recognizing the behavior of the shoppers. They aren't understanding that I find out what I need from search and algorithms; even if subconsciously, I'm being influenced by digital shopping, whether I'm in the store or not."

Sean Corbin, Ocean Spray's team leader for Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, said in an interview that most suppliers understand they need to provide more information. Wal-Mart sells more than 100 Ocean Spray products.

"I think everybody knows it's the right thing, The issue is finding the funds, the research and the experts to provide it to Wal-Mart in the way they want it," Corbin said. "So then you have work with an outside service like WhyteSpyder, but it's an issue of resources."

"Even though not all of our products are on [the Wal-Mart website], we know that we can't afford to not have good rich content for the shoppers to find when they look things up online," Corbin added.

Retail consultant Carol Spieckerman said Wal-Mart will be challenged with presenting a large amount of information into a customer-friendly format.

"Black Friday may seem far out. but between now and then, Wal-Mart will be faced with creating a massive content repository and integrating what will probably be wildly disparate content elements into a cohesive. online and mobile-friendly presentation," Spiekerman said. "No small undertaking; yet if Wal-Mart pulls it off, they will be way ahead of traditional competitors."

Howerton agreed, saying "This is the biggest single initiative Wal-Mart has ever put on in the history of their stores.

"Wal-Mart doesn't make decisions based off of fluke. They know their shoppers. They have the data. And this is where they're investing, and suppliers just aren't seeing it," Howerton added.

Business on 07/15/2016

Print Headline: Wal-Mart in rush to get product data

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