Doug McMillon: How the Pandemic Will Change the Retail Industry and the World

May 6, 2020

Editor’s Note: This week, Business Insider shared Walmart CEO Doug McMillon’s thoughts on how COVID-19 has affected many aspects of retail. We’re republishing his perspective here.

We hear the word “unprecedented” a lot these days, and that’s probably because there’s not really any other way to describe what’s going on. And the crisis isn’t over at this point; we’ve got to keep learning and adjusting. But some clear insights are starting to emerge.

One is the important role people on the front lines play.

The first responders are there, as they always are: nurses, police, firemen and women, doctors, EMTs and others. We see them in their uniforms, and we recognize them right away. But this crisis has showed there are other people on the front lines – tens of thousands of people we might not normally think of as heroes. They wear a very different uniform. They work at retailers and grocers of all sizes in towns and neighborhoods across the country. We’ve come to expect them to be there in a way we never have before, and they have risen to the occasion.

Along the same lines, the world is seeing the importance of supply chains in a way it hasn’t before. Usually supply chains operate quietly behind the scenes. But this pandemic has showed the world that the supply chain is really a lifeline. And the people in the retail industry, foodservice and delivery services have been standing on the front lines of this crisis and extending that lifeline to all of us, every day.

I think people have also come to see that the supply chain doesn’t just extend from a distribution center to the loading dock of a store. It goes all the way to the trunk of a customer’s car or their doorstep. The so-called “last mile” of delivery has become front and center. This is just speeding up the significant change the retail industry was already undergoing. Before this crisis, we were already seeing robust adoption of online pickup and delivery in our business. As this crisis created the need for social distancing and required people to stay at home, customers embraced the pickup and delivery experience even more. My feeling is that once this crisis is more under control, people will have seen the benefits of that service and will likely continue to use it. It will become part of the “new normal.”

Broad collaboration across all sectors of industry and government has always been important – it’s literally become a matter of life and death now. At Walmart, we’re proud of the work we and others in the private sector have done to collaborate to help find solutions. Business has the unique ability to make things happen fast and at scale. We’ve seen this across industries – car manufacturers quickly re-tooling to make respirators, textile makers pivoting to produce masks and gowns, distillers in the beverage industry converting their processes to deliver hand sanitizer. It’s nothing short of amazing.

And there’s been wide partnership with governments at the federal, state and local levels. One of the most visible initiatives has been to stand-up mobile testing sites across the country. Walmart has been glad to have lent our hand in those efforts.

Which gets to the biggest lesson this pandemic has taught: the need for cooperation and partnership – the need for community. As one Walmart associate put it, “Though we’re working further apart, we’ve never felt closer.” As businesses, as communities, as families and friends, we need to go forward remembering that we’re all connected in one way or another. If there’s anything good that can come from this moment, it would be the chance we have to deepen our connections with each other.