Retailers need to play a central role in leading an economic renewal, Walmart chief executive Bill Simon said at the NRF conference in New York today.
He said there are “a lot of big rocks we can start moving” without waiting for the government to boost the economy and he added the retailer will increase its sourcing from American manufacturers by $50bn over the next ten years.
He said: “I hope many of you will join us in this effort. We think we can get to $50bn on our own - as an industry we could drive $500bn of new American manufacturing purchases over the next 10 years. That’s what an American economic renewal looks like.”
He said retailers need to be proactive in getting their economies back into strong growth. “The time for waiting is over – it’s time for us to move forward. Fixing this problem will take all of us and the retail industry has to lead,” he said.
Simon also responded to the threat of Amazon, which is predicted to overtake Walmart as the world’s biggest retailer by 2020. He admitted technology is set to “drive our industry” but insisted the future will be in multichannel retailing, not pure play etail. “Amazon is a great competitor. But it’s one of many great competitors.
“Amazon lives in a world focused on one channel. We all know retail is moving towards a digital environment that will transform the business, but it won’t be a unit channel. We believe there will be an opportunity for technology to impact retail physical retail as well as online, and we’re planning for that.”
He added technology is playing an ever greater role in Walmart, and payed tribute to the retailer’s relatively new research facility in California, WalmartLabs. “Walmart Labs is helping us move forward with mobile technology. We are piloting apps like mobile self-checkout now. Technology will drive our industry - we’ve long embraced technology and we’re continuing to do that today,” he said.
Simon also revealed plans to offer every military serviceman or woman a job at the company in the first 12 months of their return to civilian life. The company expects to hire 100,000 ex-military personnel over the next five years.
Simon said the move makes good business sense, with many veterans making good employees. He said: “They are good under pressure and quick learners. They have a sense of purpose gained from their military training, and we need that in our business and country today more than ever. Too many find it too hard to get another job when they come home.”