Weekend Confidential: Marc Lore -- WSJ

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Wal-Mart's U.S. e-commerce chief looks to the future of shopping

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (January 27, 2018).

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Marc Lore wants to make Wal-Mart cool. Since taking over as president and chief executive of the retail behemoth's U.S. e-commerce division 16 months ago, he has acquired five companies, including brands that he says "resonate with millennial shoppers," such as clothing retailers Bonobos and ModCloth. He's also launched a new in-house startup incubator.

Mr. Lore, 46, is known for founding another company that didn't sound particularly cool at first. In 2005, he started Diapers.com after wishing it was easier to replenish baby supplies for his newborn. He sold the business that he built around it to Amazon five years later for $545 million. Then, in 2014, he built Jet.com, which started as a discount retailer and now aims to attract more affluent, urban millennial customers. In 2016, Wal-Mart bought Jet.com for $3.3 billion and named Mr. Lore head of its U.S. e-commerce business in September that year.

Wal-Mart's U.S. e-commerce sales have increased since then, growing 50% in the most recently reported quarter. This spring, Mr. Lore will unveil an overhaul of the website, with the idea of transforming it from meat-and-potatoes functionality to a more modern feel. The company won't reveal many details, but it hints at a cleaner look and easy access to specialty shopping experiences, such as Lord & Taylor, directly on the site.

Another one of Mr. Lore's strategies: thinking of the 4,700 stores as warehouses. Wal-Mart now offers a discount for shoppers who buy online and agree to pick up their orders at stores. The company is experimenting with different ways of offering same-day delivery -- including a service being tested in a handful of stores in which employees deliver goods to customers on their way home from work. Employees use an internal app to look at current orders and can see which ones are on their commute home. They get extra pay for the delivery.

Across the country last spring, Wal-Mart started offering free two-day shipping on more products, similar to Amazon Prime, but without a membership fee. And Wal-Mart's site has added items aimed to appeal to young people, including from Bose and KitchenAid.

What will the future of retail bring? Mr. Lore expects that within 10 years, shoppers will be able to use voice commands to interact with websites conversationally -- for example, to ask for help in buying a gift. He sees those conversations as a bridge to the use of virtual reality in retail, particularly for home and fashion products. "You can see a couch as if it were there in your living room," he says.

To come up with new technologies that have an impact on the way people will shop, in March, Mr. Lore created an in-house startup incubator called Store No. 8, named for the store that founder Sam Walton once used for experimentation. The incubator currently includes four startups, all still in stealth mode.

Mr. Lore, who grew up in New York City's Staten Island and in Lincroft, N.J., says that his own entrepreneurial tendencies started at age 4, when he charged family members a nickel to hear his narrated slideshows about Casper the Friendly Ghost. In high school, he bought and sold baseball cards at trade shows.

After he graduated from Bucknell University, he went into banking. "I graduated in 1993, and there was no e-commerce, there was no internet," he says. "If there was, I would have done that."

Seven years later, he decided to leave his job to try to start his own business, even though he didn't have an idea for a company yet. "We had just had a newborn baby, and it was tough for people to believe or understand why I would just quit," he says. He convinced his two best friends from grammar school to quit their jobs with him, and they spent months brainstorming ideas before starting a collectibles company, which they sold to Topps Co. for $5.7 million in 2001.

A few years later, he and Vinit Bharara, one of those grammar-school friends, co-founded the company that became Diapers.com. It grew to include several other sites, including Soap.com. In 2010, Mr. Lore sold the parent company, Quidsi, to Amazon. (Amazon shut down Quidsi last year, saying it was unprofitable.)

Since joining Wal-Mart, Mr. Lore has spent three or four days a month at both its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and its offices in California. He's mainly based at Jet.com's headquarters in Hoboken, N.J.

He and his wife and their two teenage daughters live about an hour away in Mountain Lakes, N.J. Mr. Lore commutes to the office by Uber each day. He decided that owning a car was too much of a hassle, so eight months ago he got rid of his. "I've just been focused on trying to simplify life and create routines that create more time," he says. He doesn't like to watch television or read, he says. "I prefer to spend time thinking," he explains. "I feel like that's where a lot of the innovation comes from."

Despite his enthusiasm for e-commerce, Mr. Lore says, "I'm not a big shopper." When he finds something he likes, he adds, "I'll just buy it over and over again."

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 27, 2018 07:08 ET (12:08 GMT)

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