Wal-Mart is launching a retail-tech start-up incubator in Silicon Valley. The new unit, called Store No. 8 in a reference to a location the company has used to test new store layouts, will incubate and work with entrepreneurs and academics to develop solutions around robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, drone delivery and personalised shopping.
The move follows Wal-Mart’s $3 billion acquisition last year of the Jet.com online store which brought the latter’s Marc Lore into the company where he is now head of e-commerce strategy. Speaking at the recent Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas, Lore said the set-up at Store No. 8 would be “ring-fenced from the [Wal-Mart] organisation so they can just run fast”.
Lore’s influence at Wal-Mart is clearly pretty weighty. In the last two months alone, the company has acquired three more online retailers, ModCloth, ShoeBuy and Moosejaw to boost its digital offering.
Wal-Mart knows it needs to be smarter to protect itself against Amazon which has been using its home city, Seattle, as a test bed for new retail formats, among them a drive-up grocery store and an Amazon Go checkout-less shop.
The company has also been lagging behind Target which last year teamed up with Techstars Ventures to roll out a retail accelerator programme. AddStructure, an alumnus of that initiative, earlier this month announced that it had raised $1.4 million in seed funding to develop a voice search platform for e-commerce sites using machine learning technology.