Walmart & Matter: Defining Customer’s Needs First

Stephanie Slagle, Director of Digital Strategy, WBNS-TV
May 24, 2017

“Innovation is hard to define, but when you see it, you know,” said VP & GM, VUDU and Video Games & Media Jeremy Verba. He was speaking of VUDU, a transaction-based movie streaming platform. Well, today we saw innovation, no question.

We spent the first half of the day at Walmart/Sam’s Club’s Innovation Lab learning about how the world’s largest retailer approaches innovation in their massive organization.

As the largest seller of packaged video (DVD’s & Blu-ray) in the nation, Walmart had a vested interest in figuring out how to continue to serve their customers as video technology evolved. In 2011, Walmart acquired a 6-year old company called VUDU. Armed with the values of the company, and the focus on adding value to their customer experience, Verba has directed the platform into three distinct areas of customer value.

  1. Instawatch – instantly get a digital copy when you buy a physical DVD.
  2. Movies On Us – select titles available to stream for free with ads (ad-free version available at low cost).
  3. Mobile Disc to Digital – mobile app that allows the user to scan the barcode of their current physical videos that place a digital copy on the users VUDU account.

The approach to each element was highly focused on providing value to the user in the chase for the streaming movie audience. While other platforms are largely focused on subscriptions services, VUDU is betting on the fact that their data shows that audiences still like to own what they purchase.

Adding to the customer focused message of Walmart, the VP of Member Experience Sam’s Club Eddie Garcia, shared how he focuses his team on perfecting the customer experiences that include a digital element. Garcia is insistent that his team start with a clear understanding of the problem that they’re attempting to solve… not just the product.

This is a key takeaway for media companies who often chase the newest technology in the name of innovation. Garcia believes that if we’re focused on the product, we lose sight of the problem we set out to solve. Moreover, he coaches his team that if we’re in love with the problem, failure isn’t failure… it’s an opportunity to learn more information about solving the problem.

Garcia offered the group his four basic principles of innovation:

  1. Fall in love with the problem
  2. Infuse empathy into the process
  3. Use the right tools at the right time
  4. Iterate to delight

Garcia coached the media executives with the same mantra he shares with his team, ” Iterate, iterate, iterate… and always with the eye on solving the problem and making a better experience.”

Design thinking was also a key focus at our visit with the San Francisco based Matter. Director of Investments Ben Werdmuller of this media accelerator, stressed the importance of solving a problem for your users. Matter works exclusively to help startups create solutions surrounding media.

They host a 5 month long process for 12 startups (six in San Francisco, and six in New York) that take innovative ideas around media through a rigorous, hands-on workshop. At the end, they have helped entrepreneurs create ideas that are ready for market.

Matter focuses the entrepreneurs on their human-centered approach to design. Can their products pass these three tests:

  1. People (do they want it)
  2. Technology (can we actually make it)
  3. Business (can we monetize it)

However, Werdmuller warned media companies not to start with the business model first. In starting with the revenue, it’s easy to lose track of what the consumer wants, which may result in losing money. A focus on the end users’ needs will more likely result in success. The business model will evolve once the customers buy-in.

We also had a really spirited meeting with a company who is also hyper-focused on serving local communities: Nextdoor. The similarities in our focus and mission led to an interesting learning conversation about how local media organizations and Nextdoor could collaborate. They have done some early testing with select media companies that has produced promising results. There’s definitely more discussion needed here, but the fact that we are both serving local means something.

The Innovation Mission continues!