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Walmart Canada's multi-pronged strategy aims to “generate significant growth” by enhancing its in-store and online shopping experiences and upgrading its distribution, using advanced technology as an enabler.

Walmart Canada unveils $3.5 billion expansion plan

Omnichannel investments anchor effort that will ‘impact every aspect of the business,” retailer says

Over the next five years, Walmart Canada plans to invest $3.5 billion (Canadian) in a multi-pronged strategy to “generate significant growth” by enhancing its in-store and online shopping experiences and upgrading its distribution.

Mississauga, Ontario-based Walmart Canada said Monday that the sweeping expansion plan will “impact every aspect of the business.” On the brick-and-mortar side, the company aims to “reinvent” and “modernize” more than 150 of its 400-plus stores during the next three years, covering over a third of its store network.

To that end, the retailer will drive a digital transition to create “smarter stores,” including expanded electronic shelf labels; shelf scanners to track product volumes; and robotics and computer vision cameras to simplify, “minimize touches” and optimize efficiency. Similarly, a new checkout experience — including “tap to pay,” bigger self-checkout stations and Check Out With Me mobile payment technology — will reduce touchpoints and allow associates to checkout customers anywhere in the store, Walmart Canada said.

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Under the plan, more than a third of Walmart Canada's over 400 stores will be remodeled.

The company noted that the new store investments come on top of more than $1 billion invested in remodeling and opening stores over the past five years.

“Millions of customers choose to shop with us in-store and online every day, and that's a tremendous honor,” Walmart Canada President and CEO Horacio Barbeito said in a statement. “Today’s significant investment will position us for future growth and make Walmart Canada even better for our associates and our customers. We are doubling down on our focus on the customer experience — not just to keep up, but to lead and to be the very best in Canada.”

Dovetailing with the store improvements will be an accelerated omnichannel offering, with online pickup as a linchpin. Plans call for Walmart Canada to roll out the “full Walmart Pickup” service by the end of this year to about 270 stores, or 70% of its retail network. The retailer also aims to invest in technology to speed up the pickup experience, including via advanced notification.

To quicken fulfillment for online pickup and delivery, Walmart Canada will pilot “hybrid locations,” or supercenters housing micro-fulfillment centers in the backroom. That effort, too, will entail additional tech investment to sharpen fulfillment center operations to drive speed and enable tracking, the company said, adding that it expects to add thousands of new omnichannel associate jobs as part of efforts to improve its online/in-store shopping experience.

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Walmart Canada expects automated, backroom micro-fulfillment centers to speed up online pickup and delivery and augment order capacity.

“We need to do everything we can to delight our customer every single time they choose to shop with us, whether it’s online or in the store,” commented Sam Wankowski, chief operations officer at Walmart Canada. “We’re challenging ourselves to be better and be relentlessly focused on excellent omni customer service and experience. This means better stores, quicker service and doing what Walmart does best: focusing on customers, always at Walmart’s everyday low prices.”

Walmart Canada said it will expedite the flow of products through a $1.1 billion investment to build two new distribution centers and renovate a third. Plans call for the construction of a 550,000-square-foot DC to open in Vaughan, Ontario, in 2024 and a new 300,000-square-foot DC now under construction in Surrey, British Columbia, to open in 2022. The company said the Vaughan facility is partnering with Vanderlande for “next generation” automation and technology and with Witron for the Surrey facility’s distribution logistics technology.

Slated to go live in early 2021 is a newly automated DC in Cornwall, Ontario, that manages apparel, health and beauty, and small general merchandise. Walmart Canada said the systems will feature Cobot Technology’s machine-learning solutions, which can work with associates to improve operational accuracy and efficiency.

Distribution capacity also will be ramped up with a range of “leading-edge technologies,” according to Walmart Canada. “Omni-capable,” next-gen warehouse management systems will help meet future needs of physical stores and e-commerce, while the use of telematics and Internet of Things (IoE) sensors across over 2,200 trailers will enable the collection of real-time information on the quality and freshness of deliveries, the company said.

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The 550,000-square-foot Vaughan, Ontario, distribution center (rendering above) is slated to open in 2024. Meanwhile, a 300,000-square-foot DC already is being built in Surrey, British Columbia, and is due to open in 2022.

In addition, Walmart Canada plans to launch artificial intelligence software in partnership with o9 to more accurately forecast and manage volume, which the retailer said will help ensure customers get what they want, when they want it. For its transportation payments system, the company will scale its blockchain-based platform with Toronto-based DLT Labs. And with Axonify, a Waterloo, Ontario-based “micro-frontline” learning firm, Walmart Canada will employ new machine-learning training software to bolster training and safety in DC and fleet operations.

“The retail business is as dynamic as ever, and this investment ensures we’re developing a supply chain that is the envy of the world,” stated John Bayliss, senior Vice president of logistics and supply chain for Walmart Canada. “The better the supply chain, the quicker our customers can get the products they want. This investment will transform our supply chain and create hundreds of Canadian construction jobs along the way.”

Overall, Walmart Canada serves more than 1.2 million customers daily via its more than 400 stores, and its online store is visited by more than 900,000 customers each daily. The company employs over 90,000 associates.

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