In terms of operating costs, virtual trumps bricks-and-mortar. Walmart has invested in, and fought long hard battles for, actual locations where customers have to travel to to buy merchandise. These fixed costs---maintenance, light, heat, employees---add up and are nearly impossible to eliminate. Walmart's principle competitor, Amazon, has avoided nearly all of these costs by staying virtual, although the company, insanely? is contemplating real (book) stores to somehow supplement the virtual one. The future of mass retailing is online, but Walmart is hopeful that technical innovations might keep the offline business alive for a little while longer. Phil Wahba, reporting in Walmart Steps Up Search for Retail Tech from Startups for Fortune, writes:
Walmart announced it would hold a Technology Innovation Open Call in October in conjunction with Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit, an event that will bring together 100 members of Walmart’s brass with startups devising the latest latest retail tech, whether it be for stores, logistics, big data, security, or social media. The event builds on a smaller, similar event the retailer held last year, a Walmart spokesman told Fortune. This makes Walmart the latest retailer looking to tap the ideas of small companies to help come up with the tech to support where shopping is heading next. Tech spending is a huge priority for Walmart: in the last few years, it has spent billions on things like equipping stores to help fill e-commerce orders and to handle same-day in-store pick up; a new app, the soon-to-be deployed Walmart Pay; and making curbside grocery pickup available at more stores. Walmart is the third largest U.S. e-commerce company, but digital sales growth has slowed in recent quarters and is below that of Target and Amazon.
How long before customer service bots are roaming the sales floor? Jeff Hess: Have Coffee Will Write.

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