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Neil Ashe
Neil Ashe, Walmart President and CEO of Global eCommerce for Wal-Mart Stores, addresses the term “show-rooming” at the GeekWire Summit 2014.

The world’s largest retailer is no longer fretting about people using their smartphones to search for better prices online when in their stores.

“If people want to come in our stores and see things,” said Neil Ashe, Walmart President and CEO of Global eCommerce for Wal-Mart Stores, “Awesome! We want them to be there.”

Last week, Ashe appeared at the GeekWire Summit, where GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and I interviewed him in front of 800 attendees. During the fireside chat, Ashe painted a picture of what it’s like to be one of Walmart’s 2,000 employees in Silicon Valley, who are focused on building out the retailer’s global e-commerce business. He even poked a little fun at Amazon while visiting the Seattle company’s backyard.

But one of Ashe’s more interesting responses had to do with a question about “showrooming,” a term conceived a few years back that described how customers were walking out of stores empty-handed after using a smartphone to look for more affordable prices online. Smartphones, equipped with high-speed Internet access and cameras, along with barcode-reading apps from Amazon and eBay, made it all too easy.

So, I had to ask? Is ‘showrooming’ a dirty word at Walmart?

Neil Ashe

“No, it’s not a bad word at Walmart,” he said, relaying a story about former Wal-Mart Stores CEO Mike Duke, who told him, “If people want to showroom, then we are going to be the best darn showroom in town.”

“It’s our job to earn that sale from you when you are there, and we believe we do, and we can,” he said. “We provide you with the access, service and the price that’s compelling you to buy it from us.”

In addition to serving as a potential showroom, he said increasingly the company’s 4,000 U.S. stores are also serving as distribution centers that can ship products to a customer’s home. The stores can also be used as customer interaction points, where they can pick-up items after purchasing them online. That’s a huge advantage when Walmart has a store within five miles of two-thirds of the U.S. population, Ashe said.

“Our working assumption is that all of our customers have smartphones,” he said, adding that if they don’t have a smartphone, “We hope to sell them one soon.”

Watch the whole conversation below, and for more coverage of the event go here:

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