April 28, 2016, 7:18 AM

Wal-Mart to suppliers: Help us identify new products to sell

The retailer monitors what customers are searching for on Walmart.com, then matches demand with items it knows vendors can supply immediately.

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is known for low prices, but another way it has become the world’s largest company by sales is by offering an assortment of merchandise that matches what its customers are looking for online as well as in its stores.

There are hundreds of millions of SKUs in the world that can be legally sold, and the trick is to figure out the right assortment a retailer’s customers want, Ram Rampalli, Wal-Mart’s global head of content acquisition, said today during a presentation on Wal-Mart’s product information policies at SPS In:fluence, a conference hosted by SPS Commerce Inc., a provider of retail industry cloud-based supply chain technology.

To help Wal-Mart reach ideal product assortments on its e-commerce sites and in its stores, it wants its merchandise suppliers to provide digital information about all of their products, including thorough descriptions, even if it’s for merchandise Wal-Mart has never sold or plans to sell, Rampalli said to an audience of some 200 people that included various types of suppliers.

Rampalli added that, as customers search for products on Walmart.com or ask for them in its stores, Wal-Mart compiles online reports on frequently requested products it doesn’t already sell or plan to sell. Then it checks to see if any of those new items are included in the product data submitted by its merchandise suppliers and stored in online databases; if it finds some, it will contact suppliers and place orders to meet the newly identified demand.

By identifying the geographical location of online customers by their IP addresses or other means, Wal-Mart can also identify demand for new products in particular geographic areas. Having such product data already on hand allows Wal-Mart to quickly order new merchandise while it’s still in hot demand, Rampalli noted.

Rampalli also advised suppliers to implement an organized method of providing accurate and helpful product descriptions, including product attributes like materials and features, and supportive content like images and videos. “The better you tell a story about your products, the easier it is for us to show it to our customers,” he said.

Rampalli said Wal-Mart works with 10 content service providers, such as Salsify, that help suppliers organize their product data and related content according to Wal-Mart’s specifications. He said Wal-Mart doesn’t require the use of such services, however, and noted they can directly load their own content at SupplierCenter.walmart.com.

Wal-Mart is No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 and No. 1 in the Fortune Global 500.

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