Walmart Supplier Pain Points Series
By James Harris and John Harris
“I want us to stop talking about digital and physical retail as if they’re two separate things. The customer doesn’t think of it that way, and we can’t either.”
—Walmart CEO Doug McMillon
Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart Inc. made the statement above at the annual shareholders’ meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2015. Since that time, Walmart has acquired Jet.com, Hayneedle, ShoeBuy, Moosejaw, ModCloth, and Bonobos, among other eCommerce platforms and technology. Additionally, Walmart launched free two-day shipping on more than two million items in 2017, allowing it to finally compete head-to-head with eCommerce titan Amazon.com.
As of January 31, 2021, Walmart had 3,750 pickup locations and 3,000 delivery locations, delivering over 1.5M packages to consumers’ homes in the US each week. In fiscal year 2020 (Feb 2020-Jan 2021) Walmart eCommerce grew at a rate of 79%, propelled both by Walmart’s omni-channel efforts and the onset of COVID-19.
Getting Your Product Placed on Walmart.com
Before proceeding, it is important to point out that this article does not address the third-party marketplace. We are focusing on Owned (warehouse supplier) and DSV (drop-ship vendor) relationships.
Initial Buyer Contact
Making contact with the correct merchant is a key step. This is significantly easier than it was just a year ago, as Walmart has completely merged its US eCommerce and stores merchant teams into unified omni-channel merchant teams. If you know the store merchant, you also know the eCommerce merchant, because they are one and the same.
LinkedIn is a helpful tool for identifying merchants, as are other social media channels. Walmart supplier groups are a potential resource for contact information.
Once you have reached the right contact, it is important to recognize that Walmart merchants are extremely pressed for time, so include in your initial email only what is absolutely necessary to get their attention and show them that they need your brand or product on Walmart.com. Next, pursue a video call or in-person meeting to demonstrate your top-performing items, those items’ sales potential on Walmart.com, and any supporting information about your consumer and their needs. Focus on showing how your brand meets the needs and desires of the Walmart eCommerce shopper.
Vendor Agreement (Owned and DSV)
After you make that great introduction and dynamic presentation to the Walmart merchant and they agree to list your products, the next step is a vendor agreement. Walmart.com employs two types of vendor agreement for eCommerce: Owned and DSV (drop-ship vendor).
Owned refers to the fact that, in this case, Walmart purchases the products from the supplier and therefore “owns” the inventory. They carry products from this type of supplier in their growing system of dedicated eCommerce fulfillment centers (27 centers are currently in operation), and ship orders direct-to-consumer or to a Walmart store for pick-up. Walmart has more than 100 more distribution centers, many of which can ship goods for eCommerce purposes, but products coming from these DCs are normally carried in the stores as well.
Benefits to having an Owned Vendor Agreement:
- Your items are sold under the Walmart name.
- Walmart markets the product—via sponsored ads, for example.
- You don’t have inventory responsibility.
- You make sales in bulk.
Drawbacks to having an Owned Vendor Agreement:
- Lack of control, especially over price.
- Possible negative effect on your brand’s reputation due to lack of control.
- Potential for price-parity issues across other marketplaces where you sell.
- Lack of control over the messaging of your product, which could lead to inconsistent branding among the different sites where you sell.
DSV (drop-ship vendor) refers to a type of supplier that receives each Walmart.com order for their product and ships the merchandise directly to the consumer or to the consumer’s store for pick-up.
Benefits to having a DSV Agreement:
- DSV lets you leverage the power of the Walmart brand name.
- You do not incur additional costs for promotions that Walmart runs on your items, and your margins are protected.
- DSV products get priority in the buy box, potentially leading to more sales.
Drawbacks to having a DSV Agreement:
- Inventory management and storage are your responsibility.
- Sales are on a per-order basis (as opposed to being in bulk).
- You are responsible for shipping many small orders (hopefully a great many) with a quick turnaround on short notice.
When the vendor agreement is approved, you will receive a login for RetailLink, which is Walmart’s portal for its suppliers. All data and related applications that you will need to manage your business with Walmart are located on this powerful website. In your RetailLink account, you will use Walmart’s Item 360 tool to create items for publication on Walmart.com and submit them for merchant approval.
While the focus of this article series is on pain points for suppliers, below is a consolidated step-by-step for getting your products built in the Item 360 application:
Step 1: If you are a domestic supplier and this is your first time setting up items with Walmart, it is recommended (but not mandatory) that you set up a Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) connection before you provide information about your products. Then you will use your Data Pool Provider’s GDSN connection to input all attributes for your items. If you are an import supplier, you will use Supplier Quote.
Step 2: Ensure your products are compliant with all product safety and responsible sourcing requirements. If your item contains chemicals, you need to initiate the WERCS process.
Step 3: Download a custom setup spreadsheet, prepopulated with any available information.
Step 4: Fill out your spreadsheet and then upload.
Step 5: Track the status of your item setup submission in the Activity Manager.
Technical Challenges (Kick-Backs)
Like any other company that works with hundreds of thousands of suppliers and hundreds of millions of shoppers, Walmart has automated methods for identifying errors in the data that is being loaded to their site. Some common kick-backs (items that are not approved because of a perceived error) can result from a number of factors. The three areas where we have noticed the most kick-backs are listed below:
WERCSmart assessments allow Walmart to understand whether your products are regulated and the appropriate means for handling, transport, storage, and disposal. This also helps support their environmental sustainability efforts and commitment to complying with all federal, state, and local regulations. If you are unsure whether you need to register your product with WERCS after reading the definitions in RetailLink, you should reach out to your category specialist. Assessments are typically completed within 48 hours, depending upon the completeness, accuracy, and payment by the supplier.
Factory IDs are required if you have an item that is “Private Label” and “Exclusive Brand.” If your items do not fit within those definitions (detailed in RetailLink), you can answer “No” and you do not have to provide a Factory ID.
Names and Descriptions
Reference the Style Guide provided by Walmart for your item categories. Style Guides show you how to set up your items in accordance with Walmart’s product content standards for images, copy, attributes, and rich media. One of the most common issues is names and/or descriptions that are too brief.
Getting your product onto Walmart.com is step one, but what comes next? How do you realize growth from year to year and leverage this success to gain or increase your brand’s distribution in Walmart’s nearly 5,000 stores in the US? These are questions we will address in upcoming articles.
If you have tips or questions about getting started on Walmart.com, feel free to leave a comment.