Walmart’s ongoing battle with Amazon for the retail crown is expanding well beyond retail, and it’s forcing one of the largest companies in the world to reexamine its DNA. In the last six months alone, Walmart has partnered with scores of tech firms to better compete with Amazon and make progress in markets that may become pivotal years down the line. It’s also begun rethinking how it views itself: a traditional big-box retail giant that now hopes it can be nimble enough to compete with one of technology’s most powerful players.
Following its purchase of Jet.com to advance its e-commerce efforts in 2016, Walmart has starting accelerating its shift from retail giant to tech-focused partner. Those deals now include a partnership with Alphabet’s Waymo for rides to and from stores; Japan’s Rakuten for Kobo e-readers; and Uber, Lyft, and Postmates for grocery delivery.
In July, Walmart announced that it’s switched its entire cloud operation to Microsoft Azure and Office 365, in addition to working with the company on artificial intelligence projects in a new five-year deal. (Microsoft is Amazon’s primary competitor in the cloud computing industry.) That Microsoft partnership might include helping open a cashier-less, brick-and-mortar retail store to compete with Amazon Go, which the Windows maker is said to be working on as of June of this year, and it’s something Walmart reportedly started working on as earlier as last year.
In addition to all that, Walmart reportedly has plans to transform its Vudu subsidiary into a legitimate Amazon Prime Video competitor by the end of the year. The company also now maintains two tech incubators, one in San Bruno, California, and one in Austin, Texas, designed around experimenting with ideas like cashier-less stores and personal shopping services and investing in areas like artificial intelligence and computer vision.
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