Consumer and retail companies have often been caught trying to play “catch- up” in digital technology. In 2021, C&R leaders increasingly sought to become digital disruptors as they invested in leading-edge start-ups, made venture investments, and bet on emerging technologies. C&R players are developing new technology and incubating those businesses to learn from the startups’ management teams and products. They are forging alliances to get access to technology, data, and digital capabilities.
A prime example of this digital wave was Walmart’s November 2021 acquisition of “select technology assets” from startup Botmock to jump ahead in “conversational commerce.” Botmock, launched in 2016, has built a “no-code” platform for designing, developing, and testing “conversational” applications. Walmart says it will use the Botmock technology to create bots that can understand customer questions and respond in natural-sounding voices and text messages.1
In March, Yum Brands, owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, announced two tech acquisitions. The first was Kvantum, which uses algorithms and machine learning to help brands understand consumer behavior and make informed media decisions. Later in the month, Yum announced it would buy Tictuk Technologies, an Israeli company that specializes in conversational commerce. Tictuk developed an intelligent online ordering system that it says can guide customers to complete their orders in under 60 seconds through social media and chat channels.2
Other tech investments by C&R players are aimed at improving online services. After two years of ordering everything from burritos to sofas online, consumers have come to expect “Amazon Prime” levels of service. A major focus of investments in conversational retail is aimed at beating the customer experience standards set by Amazon. Walmart, for example, is spending $14 billion on capital investment to help match Amazon delivery services. The retail giant is building local fulfillment centers for online purchases at store locations and other facilities and is equipping them with robots that zip around the facility, gathering merchandise for humans to pack for shipping.3
Home Depot, whose online sales jumped 86 percent during the pandemic, is partnering with Walmart’s GoLocal delivery service to provide same-day and next-day delivery.
In November, Macy’s announced that it is investing in a curated digital marketplace that will allow select third-party vendors to sell merchandise on Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s online stores. The initiative involves a partnership with Mirakl, a developer of B2B and B2C e-commerce platforms. Macy’s says the deal will help it reach its goal of $10 billion a year in online sales by 2023.4
In 2022, we’re likely to see more technology investments and partnerships, as C&R players strive to find ways to improve their digital capabilities and the customer’s experience.
- Source: Walmart has acquired Botmock, a no-code platform for developing conversational application, Inside Nocode, November 4, 2021.
- Source: Amelia Lucas, “Taco Bell owner Yum Brands buys social media ordering platform in
second tech deal of the month,” CNBC.com, March 24, 2021.
- Source: Tonya Garcia, “Walmart adding dozens of automated local fulfillment centers to speed delivery and pickup orders,” marketwatch.com, January 27, 2021.
- Source: “Macy’s, Inc. Announces Plans to Launch Curated Digital Marketplace,” Mirakl press release, November 18, 2022.