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Wall-Mart and Facebook: Natural Retail Partners?

If business is all about who you know (business friends) as much as what you know, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his senior team have taken ‘friends’ to a new level of business planning.

They have had a meeting with Wal-Mart’s Arkansas big executive players to what Reuters described as ‘deepening’ the relationship between them.

Senior teams talked together and Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg spoke to ‘hundreds of Wal-Mart employees’.

This was at a regular monthly Wal-Mart, 7.30am meeting, established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and continued today, mixing high powered execs with long terms staffers to be rewarded and visiting guests and celebrities, which have lately included Sheryl Crow, Robert Pattinson and Walter Isaacson (who wrote a Steve Jobs’ biography).

The world’s number one social network talking with the world’s number one retailer, what can it mean?

Economic Survival

Facebook’s second quarter earnings, published at the end of July, were not as bad as many Wall Street commentators expected and show the company is still growing, albeit not as astronomically as in days gone by.

Most of its revenue comes from advertising, and many observers feel they can tap into more online retail sales with some suggesting a cut from all the transactions generated on its main social network.

Wal-Mart (parent of the UK’s Asda giant) felt that Facebook could ‘learn from the experience and management team’ of the giant retailer. They currently pay to advertise on Facebook and have 17 million fans on the site. Reuters reported that expanding their online reach is crucial for Wal-Mart, as more of their customers shop online, particularly for digital devices.

The plan seems to be to take on Amazon head to head. Currently, while Wal-Mart sees annual sales of over almost $450 billion, their online sales are miniscule compared with Amazon’s turnover of $48 billion.

Other big US conglomerates like JC Penney, Gap and Nordstrom have previously set up Facebook stores to combine retail with social networking, but had mixed results. This link up between Facebook and Wal-Mart seems a better fit, presumably in the interests of both parties.

Strategic alliances in business are commonplace. Retail, distribution, advertising and the spaces between them are natural bed-fellows.

It’s Old News, Really

Indeed, the Facebook-Wal-Mart tie up has been around in some form for quite a time now. Last October it was announced that My Local Walmart was going live, a page that let the retailer’s fans follow what is happening in neighbourhood stores, rather than the national corporation.

New product alerts and discounts are sent covering 3500 Wal-Mart outlets, on the philosophy that national level communication becomes more relevant to customers at local level, through this kind of interaction. Store maps pinpointing the location of targeted products go out too.

They send about two messages every week, often triggered by events like weather or local school news. ‘Sunscreen in the south and snow boots in the north’ is the mantra that explains it.

As early as 2007, Wal-Mart aimed a campaign at college students, through Roommate Style Match on Facebook. This was based on the fact that the average freshman (first year) at college/university spent well over a thousand dollars on decor and electronics for their rooms.

James Johnson on The Inquisitr suggested in his report of the Facebook attendance at EWall-Mart that they were set to meet to ‘possibly plan world domination.’ In a sense, he was right, retail world domination is the prize at stake for all these major players in the game of retail at the technology interface.

In a recent commentary about Facebook and Wal-Mart, Bianca Bosker on Huffington Post said that while a blogger had said Zuckerberg succeeeded because of his ‘ambition, vision, execution, persistence, luck and timing’, there was one ingredient missing from that praise list.

She said Zuckerberg is ‘a master bricoleur’, (a man who gathers snippets and trifles from all over and melds them together in a unique something) who has ‘cherry-picked and ingested innovations introduced by other social media sites and platforms.’

So that’s the explanation. Mark Zuckerberg is a an effective and selective free-shopper from others’ stores.


Yahoo News, Facebook, Wal-Mart Chiefs meet to ‘deepen’ relationship,19 July 2012

The Inquisitr, James Johnson, 20 July 2012

Image: Arthur Jacob