Wal-Mart Reveals Some Intriguing Online Capabilities

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is revealing some intriguing new online capabilities that should give competitors like Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) pause. The retail behemoth is quietly promoting and testing its new free delivery option, ShippingPass, at the same time with a brilliant online strategy.

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The strategy demonstrates that Wal-Mart’s leaders have a tremendous understanding of human nature, publicity, advertising, online marketing and retailing that they are using to drive sales to Walmart.com in clever new ways. TechCrunch reported that an unknown number of web surfers stumbled upon a leaked internal link at Wal-Mart.com.

The link took them to a webpage that revealed the name of Wal-Mart’s new service, ShippingPass, and offered customers free shipping for $1 a year. Customers were even invited to sign up for the service, but the link later disappeared. Those that signed up for the fantastic deal later received an apology email from Wal-Mart that included a $50 e-gift card. The apology email claimed those that had signed up had accidently stumbled upon an internal alpha test of the service.
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How Wal-Mart Mastered Free Publicity and Social Media

This does not sound like a mistake to me; instead, it sounds like a very deliberate and extremely clever publicity stunt that took advantage of the Alpha Test. The event can be categorized as a publicity stunt because of all the attention it brought to ShippingPass. Not only did it get media attention but it also attracted interest from social media and the blogosphere.

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Coming Soon to the Book and Comic Picker eBay Store.

The external testers that signed up for the test become advertisers for Wal-Mart because they will talking about the $50 they got for simply trying to sign up for ShippingPass. When I heard about the affair, I went straight to the ShippingPass waitlist page and signed up. I imagine I was not the only one that decided to invest a few seconds of time for $50.

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My guess is that a lot of people are going to be searching for ShippingPass and going to Wal-Mart’s website looking for it. That, of course, is the idea—to generate a lot of interest and buzz for ShippingPass before it shows up at little or no cost.

The strategy is brilliant because it involves real people that will tell their friends, family, coworkers and everybody else about it. It generates the most powerful kind of publicity of all, word of mouth.

ShippingPass Shows That Wal-Mart Gets It, Target May Not

The test also demonstrates that Wal-Mart has a better grasp of social media than competitors like Target Corp (NYSE: TGT), which showed how inept it was with the Lilly Pulitzer debacle. Instead of offering customers something it did not have and resources that did not exist, Wal-Mart gave them a tantalizing glimpse of what it might be planning.

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Now available at the Book and Comic Picker eBay Store.

Not only did ShippingPass give consumers a free preview of what Wal-Mart is planning but it also gave the company’s techs a chance to test and tweak their technology. Wal-Mart could check to see if its web infrastructure could handle the rush of customers created by the ShippingPass premier without any widely publicized failures.

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Wal-Mart’s engineers now have a pretty good idea of what will happen when shoppers start using ShippingPass, and they know how well some of its features will work. They did this without generating a lot of bad publicity or consumer anger the way Target did with the bungled Pulitzer giveaway.

By giving out those gift cards, Wal-Mart gives consumers a good reason to come back for the next test. Namely, they think they might get $50 for their troubles.

Once again, Wal-Mart has shown that it has a very sophisticated grasp of online retail. Its digital team understands that you build a customer base online by building a reputation and relationships, much as its management understands that you need a strong infrastructure to sell online.

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Now listed for sale at the Book and Comic Picker eBay Store!!

Wal-Mart on the Cutting Edge of Ecommerce

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This sophisticated grasp of marketing combined with the fulfillment centers and other infrastructure Wal-Mart is building makes it a formidable competitor in ecommerce. If Wal-Mart can maintain the momentum of creativity and consumer interest it has demonstrated here, it could soon be able to position itself as the anti-Amazon.

Wal-Mart is now one of the leaders in the world of ecommerce. Its cutting edge capabilities make it a company to watch. They also make Wal-Mart both a technology and a value play from an investment standpoint. It is a technology play because of its growing and increasingly sophisticated ecommerce capabilities and a value play because of its dividend yield and steady revenue growth.

If companies like Target wish to learn how to master ecommerce, they should take a look at Wal-Mart. It also has some important lessons to teach us all about marketing and ecommerce.


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