The world’s biggest retailer Wal-Mart has set up an international operation at Asda’s HQ in Leeds which will support the launch of Wal-Mart’s online operations around the globe.
Wal-Mart said it had chosen its Asda subsidiary as the launchpad as the UK leads the world in online shopping.
This will be the first time Wal-Mart has set up a new international team outside the US and reflects the success Asda has had with its “click and collect” services, which are now being rolled out across the US.
The team will be headed up by Saeed Anslow, Asda’s senior director - International eCommerce, who previously worked in Asda’s grocery e-commerce team.
“Rather than basing the team in the US, Wal-Mart is basing it in its most competitive market. Wal-Mart is using Yorkshire expertise to spearhead its international growth,” he said.
Mr Anslow is currently assembling a team to launch the new operation.
“The team will be responsible for supporting international markets as they launch and grow their online businesses,” he said.
“There is a fantastic opportunity for growth in China and Japan.”
The team will be responsible for helping to launch and improve online operations in the 26 countries that Wal-Mart operates in outside the US.
Asda in the UK is seen as the jewel in Wal-Mart’s international crown and now the retailer has high hopes for its online operations in China, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, South Africa and other parts of Latin America.
The team’s first project is the launch of online operations in Shenzhen in southern China.
Asda said each market is unique and it will not be as simple as lifting the UK model and just landing it in other markets.
For example the Chinese online service is being launched with a mobile app rather than a desktop or tablet-led operation as the Chinese are far more reliant on their mobiles than Europeans.
Mr Anslow said: “In China it will be all mobile, which gives you an idea of the importance of the mobile there. In China everyone has a mobile - they’ve grown up with them.”
Desktop and tablet services will follow over time as the service beds in. The initial launch will include a pilot operating out of 23 stores.
Wal-Mart is keeping its next launch plans confidential, but the new team will be working on improving existing operations in Japan and Mexico.
In Japan the team will expand the online operations into new areas such as “click and collect” and pick up points, where shoppers can collect goods.
“Wal-Mart only has one pick up point in Japan in Tokyo so there is a huge opportunity,” said Mr Anslow.
“We are looking at temperature controlled lockers and we’re also looking at drive through.”
One of the biggest issues for the new team will be the geographical challenges.
“Take Canada. It has 30 million less people than the UK, but it’s 40 times the size. The UK home delivery model won’t work out. But the ‘click and collect’ agenda will be particularly relevant,” said Mr Anslow.
Another challenge will be to equip each market with the most suitable delivery vehicles.
In the UK the standard truck size is 3 or 3.5 tonne vehicles, but in the US trucks are 50 per cent bigger and its latest vehicles include sleeping accommodation for the driver as they have to cover so much more ground.
In sharp contrast Japanese trucks are just a quarter the size of UK vehicles, while in South Africa deliveries are made by motorbike and in China, couriers use trikes.
“The solutions for each market will be really different,” said Mr Anslow.
“This is a big opportunity for growth for Wal-Mart.”
Wal-mart’s new operation will rely on Asda’s cutting-edge technology centre at its head office in Leeds.
The centre is the first of its kind in the UK and enables Asda and parent company Wal-Mart to monitor all traffic and interactions with its global websites 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The mission control operations hub coordinates with centres in Silicon Valley, California and Bangalore, India to monitor 11 of Wal-Mart’s existing websites, including Asda.com and George.com, as well as Wal-Mart’s online operations in Mexico and Canada.
Each centre monitors the network for an eight-hour period before handing over to the next centre to create a 24-hour operating system.