Walmart (NYSE: WMT) CEO Doug McMillon delivered a far-reaching keynote address at CES2021, painting in broad strokes the company’s ambitious goals for supply chain innovation, sustainability and equity, as well as the new technologies that are changing the way the world’s largest retailer does business.

“One of the more interesting things in my view is not how any single technology is changing the world but how they all come together,” said McMillon, “and making choices about where we invest and where we don’t.” 

At times the speech unspooled as a comment on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Walmart’s archnemesis, as the two retail behemoths battle to win the hearts, minds and dollars of the millions of consumers migrating en masse to e-commerce platforms.

In a discussion about the continued evolution of Walmart+, the same-day delivery service Walmart rolled out in September, McMillon said “it will be unique; we will not copy someone else,” a likely reference to Amazon Prime, Amazon’s same-day online offering.

Among the services Walmart + is adding are fuel benefits and a “scan and go” function, he added, and there will be “other things that come along to make Walmart + more robust.”

Every company, even Walmart, is a tech company

Tiffany Moore, senior vice president, Political and Industry Affairs, for the Consumer Technology Association, moderated the conversation with McMillon.

In her introduction, she noted that Walmart’s presence at this week’s CES, considered one of the country’s premier technology conferences, highlights the legacy retailer’s technology transformation.

“There’s a ton of innovation, and it’s happening very quickly,” McMillon agreed, especially as the pandemic continues to put pressure on the supply chain and accelerate adoption of contact-free technologies.

Without delving into details, he said Walmart was adopting next-generation warehouse robotics, an initiative expected to have a huge impact on improving stock levels and inventory turns.

When it comes to incorporating artificial intelligence, the company must “get better at saving customers time,” McMillon acknowledged, “and we have to be able to personalize to do that.”

That means better use of customer data, while “always earning their trust, never surprising them with how their data is used.” 

Equity and sustainability take center stage

Apparently recorded before the violence that hit Washington last week, the CES session did not touch on Walmart’s announcement Tuesday that it was pulling donations from lawmakers who had objected to certifying the results of the presidential election, joining other companies that face pressure to take action after a mob stormed the Capitol.

Moore and McMillon did discuss Walmart’s diversity initiatives in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that have led CEOs around the country to reset equity and inclusion policies.

Among the actions the company has taken is creating teams led by African-Americans focused on how the company can use its size to make change — such as putting deposits in black-owned banks and engaging with black-owned advertising firms. 

Internally, Walmart has tried to “look in the mirror,” McMillon noted, undertaking individual journeys to learn about systemic racism throughout American history, changing processes related to promotions and pay, and creating midyear reports sharing information about the company’s progress or lack thereof.

“One of the things we’re learning is this is about growing the whole pie, this is not a zero sum game, where some people win and some people lose,” McMillon commented.

“If you grow the company and grow the pie, everyone benefits, even if you are a white male like myself.”

Business plan to ‘regenerate’ the planet

Building on existing sustainability initiatives, Walmart set an ambitious goal in September to become a “regenerative company,” focusing not only on reducing its carbon footprint but actually “reversing what is happening on our planet and making it heal,” McMillon said.

“Some of these big things, we don’t know entirely how we are going to get there,” he acknowledged, “but we make the bet that if we focus on it, if we work with suppliers, we’re going to get there.”

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