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Gibu Thomas
Gibu Thomas speaking earlier today.

SAN FRANCISCO – In years past, Walmart’s online presence has lagged as the retail giant focused more on its retail stores, which has put the company on its heels when competing with the likes of Amazon. But Walmart exec Gibu Thomas believes the company will reap significant benefits from integrating its digital and traditional retail strategies.

Thomas, Walmart’s senior vice president of mobile, digital and global e-commerce, said the explosive growth of smartphones provides retailers with a huge opportunity to take some key components of e-commerce — like personalized shopping recommendations and purchase data analytics — and bring them to a physical retail experience.

“Another way to look at this is that e-commerce brought the stores to the web, but mobile brings the web to the store,” said Thomas, speaking today at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco.

One of the key things Walmart is doing to drive engagement within its stores is adding shopping list functionality to its mobile app, and the company is currently testing a way to simplify self-checkout by scanning products into the app, and then scanning a special barcode from the app into the self checkout stand.

By bringing the web to its stores, Walmart hopes to spur massive revenue growth in a market that (at least at present) is completely inaccessible to Amazon.

Thomas, a veteran of Palm, and the co-founder and former CEO of SugarSync, cited a report by Deloitte that said mobile-influenced retail purchases will be a $689 billion dollar market come 2016, compared to e-commerce, which will only pull in $327 billion in sales. With 50 percent of Walmart’s customer base made up of smartphone users, the retailer has a really significant chance to tap into that revenue stream.

While the Deloitte report signals great potential for Walmart, the company also cannot afford to ignore its findings. Its hold on the physical retail market has helped the company weather tough competition from Amazon and others, but also faces a growing threat from others who are blending the digital and physical worlds, with smartphone-powered robotic shopping startup Hointer providing just one example.

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