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The future of retail is local

March 21, 2012

Walmart founder Sam Walton believed that retail was fundamentally a local business, and he stressed the importance of staying close to the consumer. Using this fact as a jumping off point, Facebook VP David Fischer asked Stephen F. Quinn, EVP and CMO of Walmart U.S., how the multinational retailer, with thousands of stores in countries around the world, uses technology to still go local today.

David Fischer, Facebook VP of Advertising and Global Operations, and Stephen F. Quinn, EVP and CMO of Walmart, discuss local social retail.

Quinn responded:

If you went back 120 years ago, a retailer would be a pillar in the community. [They] would know not only everybody, but their likes, what they thought was interesting, what new products they might be interested in. And they would have to curate and make choices to fit in that box. They really became a part of that community.

As retail evolved so that scale became a big part of the game, much as it had earlier done in manufacturing, it became really critical that you understood customers through market research, those types of things, and that you used your scale to lower cost and therefore lower prices. Hence, Walmart played right into that picture. I think what’s so fascinating about that story and ours at Walmart is we’re kind of going back to the future here, where the expectation is rapidly changing from our customers and even our associates that we will know and be a part of that community. And, to do that, we have to be able to–in our case–scale that kind of knowledge across 4,000 stores.

We’re just barely starting to see the potential that [going local] offers us. We’re going to have to absolutely become a part of those communities and know what’s going on in that community. Being dumb about what’s happening is not going to be acceptable anymore for us or any other large organization.

Along with Facebook, Hearsay Social shares this vision of global businesses going local through social. The Hearsay Social platform was actually built from the ground up so that enterprises could engage with their customers via social media at every level of the organization–from brand to region to local stores, agents, or employees.

Hearsay Social CEO Clara Shih recently spoke to this shared vision in an Advertising Age editorial published this week, entitled Facebook’s New Business Pages Means Marketers Must Evolve:

The Internet disintermediated a human touch from many transactions, which is perfectly fine for highly commoditized products. I’m excited to see how the growing richness of social media engagement such as timeline stories are re-intermediating this sense of emotional connection and human touch. I have no doubt marketers will rise to the occasion and quickly realize this sea change in social marketing is actually an opportunity of a lifetime to transform our brands with authentic conversations and customer relationships at scale.

We’ve embedded Fischer’s conversation with Quinn below, which took place last month at the Facebook Marketing Conference in New York.

Watch live streaming video from fbmarketingtalks at livestream.com

Ronny Kerr

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