2 November 202318 minute read

How Walmart Manages Its Supply Chain and Last Mile Delivery


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How does Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, keep its promise of delivering everyday low prices? A lot of it boils down to an efficient supply chain and last mile delivery. These elements help Walmart cater to customer demand promptly while keeping their costs low.

The supply chain is Walmart’s secret sauce, keeping products steadily flowing from suppliers right to the shelves of Walmart’s stores. It runs like a well-oiled machine, with every cog, from procurement to warehousing, working in harmony. 

But this chain doesn’t just stop at their in-store shelves; it extends right to your doorstep with their last mile delivery. When it’s done right, this final leg, where the product meets the customer, makes sure they keep coming back.

Today, I’m here to take you on an exploration of the many cogs that make up Walmart’s supply chain machinery, from forecasting customer demand to optimizing inventory levels and employing real-time management systems. You’ll see how the retail giant’s supply chain strategy, peppered with advancements in automation and sustainability initiatives, not only fuels Walmart’s operations but also sets a precedent for other businesses. 

Whether you’re a small business owner or manage a larger enterprise, there’s a page or two to be taken out of Walmart’s big book of supply chain management and last mile delivery.

Key takeaways

  • Walmart’s well-organized supply chain keeps its products moving smoothly from suppliers to store shelves and customers’ homes.
  • Their last mile delivery relies on an in-house delivery team, third-party logistics, a savvy distribution network, and the latest supply chain technology to get products to customers’ doorsteps.
  • Smart tech and data give Walmart real-time visibility into their supply chain, helping them make better decisions on the fly.
  • Walmart steps up with sustainable practices, looking for ways to reduce waste and use cleaner energy in its supply chain.
  • Other retailers are taking notes as Walmart’s supply chain practices set new standards in the retail industry.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) can help Walmart keep improving its supply chain even more.
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Walmart’s journey to becoming an eCommerce powerhouse

Born in 1962 from the vision of Sam Walton, Walmart  Inc. is an American retailer that’s grown to over 11,000 stores across 27 countries, plus an eCommerce platform, Walmart.com. It’s a shopping hub where a vast array of products meets wallet-friendly prices, all served on a platter of steadfast commitment to making customers happy. This formula has cemented Walmart’s status as a retail colossus, tending to the shopping desires of millions around the globe.

Let’s take a look at some of the processes that went into making this business so successful.

What is Supply Chain Management?

Supply chain management is like orchestrating a big, complex dance. It involves making sure every step in the journey of goods, from the starting point to the time they reach customers, is in sync. This journey has many stops along the way, like buying the materials, making products, moving them, storing them, and finally getting them into customers’ hands. 

Doing this dance right, with steps like procurement, production, warehousing, and distribution, helps Walmart (and can help you) get products to customers without missing a beat while keeping costs down.

Walmart’s supply chain magic

One of the secrets to Walmart’s success is definitely its efficient supply chain. These processes help make sure the right products get to the right places at the right times, whether that’s on their store shelves or at your front door — all at the lowest possible cost while delivering the best customer experience.

Now, let’s peek behind the curtain to see how Walmart’s supply chain management system, a marvel of optimization and coordination, fuels this retail behemoth’s operations. As the backbone that supports every part of Walmart’s retail body from procurement to the moment a package reaches the customer, this system is built on three main pillars: partnerships, inventory management, and a well-designed distribution network

Over the years, Walmart has fine-tuned these aspects to deliver on its promise of everyday low prices. I’ll tell you how they handle each one.

Strong supplier relationships

wal mart supplier relationships

Forming solid partnerships with suppliers is like laying a sturdy foundation for a house. Walmart’s suppliers work hand in hand with the major retailer to help them deliver products to customers on time and keep their inventory levels in the Goldilocks zone (just right). 

By speaking the same language and using some cool tech tools (which I’ll get into shortly), Walmart gets a live look into its supply chain so it can make better decisions to keep the gears turning smoothly.

Going a bit deeper, strategic sourcing and supplier management is where Walmart really shines. They understand that strong supplier partnerships are the magic glue that keeps the supply chain efficient. By developing collaborative relationships focused on timely delivery and smart inventory management, Walmart and its suppliers are like a well-coordinated orchestra producing a harmonious supply chain melody.

Now, here’s a nifty trick up Walmart’s sleeve: Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI). This system basically lets suppliers see real-time sales data, letting them take the wheel in managing inventory levels at Walmart stores. It’s a buddy system that allows for better control over inventory, reducing the chances of the dreaded out-of-stock or overstock scenarios. 

By opening up the communication channels and sharing the stage with suppliers, Walmart creates a win-win synergy, helping the supply chain to move gracefully in tune with customer demand.

Smart inventory management

Inventory management is like having a trusty map for a treasure hunt. It gives Walmart a clear picture of what’s in store, what needs to be ordered, and when. Just like you’d keep an eye on a map to reach a treasure, Walmart keeps a close eye on sales data and uses smart forecasting to make sure products are ready and waiting for customers while avoiding the pitfall of overstocking. 

Walmart’s way of handling inventory is pretty smart, and it’s something you can learn from. They follow a just-in-time (JIT) approach and keep the replenishment game strong and steady. 

The aim is simple: keep inventory levels low but always have enough products ready to meet customer demand. To get this right, Walmart uses a couple of clever techniques: Safety stock (aka buffer inventory) and anticipation inventory

Think of safety stock inventory as a small emergency water tank that’s there just in case there’s a sudden crowd of thirsty people. On the other hand, anticipation inventory is like stocking up on water before a big event, knowing well that there’ll be a lot of thirsty folks around.

They also have a neat trick up their sleeve called cross-docking. It’s like a relay race for products, where they are passed directly from inbound trucks to outbound trucks without hanging around in storage. This quick pass reduces handling costs and speeds up delivery, making sure products reach the shelves and customers faster.

A savvy distribution network

Walmart has a spider web of distribution centers spread out just right across the globe. These centers are like busy bee hives where products get sorted out and sent off to Walmart stores. 

Planning these routes well tightens up operations, helping Walmart trim down travel time and costs — like making sure all the bees find the fastest way back to the hive so that the supply chain can buzz along smoothly.

Now, sprinkle in some tech magic with their Retail Link system, and Walmart’s supply chain management transforms from strong to exceptional. This tech platform is like a digital meeting room where Walmart, suppliers, distributors, and other key stakeholders in the supply chain network can chat, keep an eye on inventory, and peek into sales data as it happens. 

As the retail store landscape whirls into the future, Walmart’s grip on supply chain excellence keeps it spinning steadily along, setting a shining example for other businesses like yours to learn from.

Now, back to those beehives — the distribution centers. These strategically placed hubs buzz with activity as they receive, sort, and send off products to Walmart stores. The trick to keeping the buzz smooth and efficient is optimizing the distribution network. 

It’s like having a well-planned dance floor where every bee knows its steps, reducing the bumps and twirls and making the dance of moving goods graceful. Walmart doesn’t just make the steps up as it goes; it uses smart data analytics and modeling techniques to find the best spots for distribution centers and the fastest routes for delivering products. 

Walmart also uses cool gadgets like automated conveyor systems and robotics in its distribution centers. These machines never tire, streamlining the movement of goods, cutting down on manual labor, and speeding up the whole show.

Thanks to the smart placement of distribution centers, the fast and efficient routes, and the tech-enhanced operations, Walmart’s savvy distribution network is a masterclass in keeping your supply chain dance smooth, swift, and cost-effective.

But there’s even more to tell you about the cutting-edge tech behind their supply chain operations. 

The latest supply chain technology

Walmart digs deep into its pockets to invest in the most advanced tech and systems so they can get the best insights into their supply chain processes and make smart, data-driven decisions.

Sophisticated inventory management systems give them a real-time peek into inventory levels showing them what’s in stock and what needs to be ordered, and keeping demand forecasting and inventory replenishment spot on. Walmart also uses data analytics tools to read into customer buying patterns, market trends, and how well suppliers are doing. 

Remember their Retail Link system that acts like a VIP lounge where Walmart’s suppliers can see sales data, inventory levels, and what products might be in demand soon? That’s another high-tech way they make sure enough products are in stock at their stores and in their warehouses and fulfillment centers to meet customer demand.

Summing up, Walmart’s supply chain management is a strategic concoction of sourcing, inventory management, distribution networking, and the sprinkle of tech and data analytics. By focusing on these key areas, Walmart has pulled off a show of operational excellence, cutting costs, and delivering value to customers. 

What is last-mile delivery?

Last mile delivery refers to the final leg of the supply chain, where products are delivered to a customer’s doorstep from the store or distribution center. It might be the most important and trickiest part of the delivery process since it leaves a lasting impression on customers. 

For retailers like Walmart, acing this final leg is key to keeping customers happy and coming back for more. Today’s customers want their orders delivered fast (thanks, in part, to Amazon making next-day delivery the norm) and without any mishaps. When the last mile delivery is smooth, customers are happy, likely leading them to shop with you again and maybe even tell their friends about you.

However, a bumpy last mile delivery ride can leave customers with a sour taste. Late deliveries, messed up orders, or missed delivery slots can lead to customers packing up and moving to your competitors. That’s why Walmart is all in on making its last mile delivery as smooth as silk to meet customer hopes and stay ahead in the retail race.

Walmart’s Last Mile Delivery

Delivering the goods to customers or making them ready for a quick pick-up is the final lap in Walmart's retail race. This last-mile delivery aspect is the cherry on top of the retail supply chain pie, making sure each order’s entire journey is smooth and snappy. 

It’s where Walmart’s promise of convenience and speed shines bright, proving that a retail giant can also be a fast, friendly neighbor. Next, I’ll tell you about the different ways Walmart makes sure they hit the right note with last-mile delivery.

In-house courier team

Walmart built its own in-house courier team to keep a tight grip on their last mile delivery process. With its own set of wheels and drivers, Walmart can keep a close eye on deliveries, making sure they are on time and on point.

This helps Walmart plan the smartest delivery routes, cut down delivery times, and tune up its overall efficiency. Plus, Walmart trains their delivery folks to give customers the best customer service, adding extra shine to the experience.

Teaming up with third-party logistics providers

Walmart also shakes hands with third-party logistics providers to amp up its last mile delivery game. Walmart gets to borrow tech and know-how from these partners, like smart route planning and real-time tracking. This teamwork makes last mile delivery more cost-effective, especially in rural places where delivery is tough.

For instance, consider a rural town in Arkansas where the delivery scene is tough due to scattered residences and less developed road infrastructure. By partnering with a local logistics provider familiar with the area, Walmart can leverage the provider's geographical knowledge and delivery network. 

Harnessing tech and automation

Walmart knows the cool stuff tech and automation can do to help streamline their last-mile delivery. Investing in things like route planning software, GPS tracking, and automated sorting, Walmart is geared up for super-fast delivery operations.

With these tech tools, Walmart can plan delivery routes, prevent delays, and give customers a live look into their order’s delivery journey. And cutting down on manual tasks also cuts the chances of pesky human slip-ups.

Pickup options and click-and-collect services

To give customers more choices and convenience, Walmart rolled out pickup options and click-and-collect services. These are like express lanes where customers can grab their orders from a nearby Walmart store or a pickup point, skipping the wait for home delivery and picking up their orders whenever they want.

Walmart also blended tech into these services, letting customers book their pickup slots, get alerts when orders are ready, and check in using mobile apps once they arrive. This blend of tech and store setup cranks up the customer experience, giving Walmart an edge over the competition.

They’ve decoded the last mile delivery riddle with their own delivery teams, logistics experts, cutting-edge tech, and flexible pickup options. By keeping the focus on these areas and adapting to what customers want, Walmart is set to deliver a hassle-free and pleasant delivery experience, keeping its spot warm as a top dog in the retail space.

Walmart’s supply chain sustainability initiatives

wal mart sustainability initiatives

As of the big kahunas in the retail world, Walmart knows the weight of weaving sustainability into its supply chain operations. The company is all in on cutting down its environmental footprints and cheering on responsible sourcing practices. Here’s what makes their supply chain sustainable lately.

Ethical sourcing and keeping suppliers in check

Walmart isn’t playing around when it comes to ethical sourcing and keeping its suppliers on their toes. The company has laid down tough standards and guidelines to make sure its suppliers are standing up to social and environmental responsibilities. 

Through its Supplier Standards and Responsible Sourcing practices, Walmart makes sure suppliers are on the straight and narrow with labor and human rights standards, like fair pay, safe work spots, and keeping child labor out of the picture.

Walmart keeps a close eye on suppliers with regular check-ups, both on the calendar and surprise ones, to see how they’re doing. They also roll up their sleeves to help suppliers buff up their sustainability in order to meet all these standards.

Adding a green lens to sourcing

Walmart has its eyes on the prize with bold goals to cut back on greenhouse gas puffs and bring renewable energy into the mix. The aim is to get half of its electricity from renewable buddies like solar and wind by 2025, and Walmart is putting its money where its mouth is to hit that target.

To do this, they team up with suppliers who are catching the sustainable manufacturing wave, cutting down on waste, and shrinking their carbon footprints along their supply chains.

Green moves in logistics and transportation

It's no longer enough to deliver goods swiftly and efficiently; you have to do it in a way that respects Mother Earth. 

Walmart is singing along to the tune of sustainability, making green moves in its logistics and transportation. As a business owner, watching Walmart in action can give you ideas on how to weave environmental responsibility into your own supply chain. From fuel-efficient vehicles to waste-cutting initiatives, let’s look into how Walmart is blending green with retail and why it’s a tune worth humming.

  • Fuel efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. Walmart gets that moving goods comes with a carbon price tag. So, the company is on a mission to pump up fuel efficiency and slash carbon emissions. By bringing in a modern crew of fuel-friendly trucks and trailers armed with tech to keep fuel thirst in check, Walmart is stepping up its green transportation game.

    The adventure doesn’t stop there. Walmart is jazzing up its delivery routes and bringing hybrid and electric rides into the picture to keep carbon emissions on a leash. The company is also on the hunt for alternative energy sources like biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells to cut the cord with fossil fuels.
  • Electric vehicles and alternative fuel. Walmart is riding the wave of alternative fuel and electric delivery vehicles to keep its sustainability promise. By adding a good number of hybrid and electric rides to its fleet, the company is cutting down on the smog and waving goodbye to traditional gas-guzzlers.

    Walmart is also on the lookout for partnerships with vehicle makers and tech wizards to speed up the electric vehicle parade and cook up smart solutions for green transportation in retail.
  • Waste reduction and recycling. Walmart knows that cutting waste and upping the recycling game is a big deal in painting a green supply chain. The company is all about curbing waste and making the most out of recycling across its operations.

    Walmart is nudging suppliers to go for packaging that’s easy to recycle and made from earth-friendly materials. With recycling programs in its stores and distribution centers, the aim is to steer waste away from landfills and spin the recycling wheel.

    They’re also always looking into ways to reduce waste, like food waste cutback programs and composting efforts. It’s about joining hands with suppliers, nonprofits, and local folks to come up with ideas to reduce waste and boost sustainability.

By rolling out these green sourcing, logistics, and waste-trimming steps, Walmart is carving a green path for the retail crowd to follow. It’s sparking a green flame in other retailers to join the sustainable bandwagon and paint a greener future.

Walmart’s green supply chain initiatives show its strong will to do business responsibly and keep its environmental footprints in check. Through fair sourcing, environmental stewardship, and waste-cutting efforts, Walmart is leading the pack toward a more earth-friendly and responsible retail world.

Riding the waves: How Walmart tackles supply chain and last mile delivery hurdles

The road to managing a supply chain, especially for a behemoth like Walmart, isn’t always smooth. Seasonal demands dancing up and down, keeping a tab on an avalanche of inventory, and dodging supply chain disruptions are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Let’s unravel the challenges and the smart moves Walmart is making to keep its supply chain and last mile delivery on point.

Seasonal demand fluctuations

Seasonal demand is akin to a rhythmic dance that can sometimes shift tempo and throw you off balance. Big events like holiday shopping sprees and back-to-school rushes have a knack for making the demand graph shimmy and shake. 

But Walmart, the adept dancer, has learned to groove to this rhythm. 

With advanced forecasting and demand planning techniques, Walmart peeks into the future, analyzing historical data, market trends, and customer insights to get a feel for the upcoming demand beats. This forecasting finesse allows Walmart to adjust its inventory levels just right, so when the shopping season crescendos, Walmart is ready with stocked shelves, keeping the tune of customer satisfaction melodious and harmonious. 

Through this blend of rhythmic understanding and predictive choreography, Walmart ensures a performance that wins applause season after season, reducing stockouts and making sure the retail dance floor is always inviting.

Inventory management issues

Now, managing a mountain of different products across a ton of locations is like juggling while riding a unicycle. It’s tricky! Walmart’s got to keep the inventory levels just right — not too much to drown in carrying costs and not too little to face the dreaded stockouts. 

So, what’s the trick? 

Safety stock and anticipation inventory are Walmart’s safety nets, catching the unexpected demand balls. Supply chain tech tools and data analytics are the juggling lessons here, keeping the inventory juggle smooth and responsive.

Catching supply chain curve balls 

A global supply chain is like playing dodgeball with curve balls coming from all corners — natural disasters, political hiccups, supply bottlenecks, and sometimes, supplier slip-ups. 

Walmart’s mantra is probably “teamwork makes the dream work.” By buddying up with suppliers and partners, they share the dodgeball court, ready to tackle the curveballs together. They set up a game plan by diversifying suppliers and keeping an eagle eye on their supply chain with robust monitoring systems.

Maintaining supplier relationships 

Walmart knows it’s not a solo journey. Teaming up with suppliers and third-party logistics partners is how they create their supply chain dream team. It’s a two-way street of sharing the most important data, aligning goals, and tackling challenges hand in hand. 

This kind of camaraderie expands Walmart’s delivery network, speeds up delivery, and crafts a better shopping experience for customers. Logistics pros have the tech know-how Walmart needs to reach more places faster and more efficiently. It's a win-win that makes shopping at Walmart a breeze.

Staying on the up-and-up

Walmart’s supply chain is like a never-ending upgrade party, and the company continually tunes its supply chain melody by investing in tech and data analytics. Tools like their Retail Link system are the party DJs, syncing real-time data between Walmart and its suppliers, and keeping the supply chain dance floor coordinated.

Walmart’s business journey is a blend of facing the music, learning the steps, and dancing through the supply chain and last mile delivery challenges. Through forecasting finesse, supplier synergy, and an endless appetite for improvement, they keep up with the retail rhythm and set a groove that’s hard to beat. 

And as the retail tune evolves, Walmart’s ready to dance through, leading the retail band towards a future of innovative and customer-friendly supply chain and last mile delivery beats.

The impact of Walmart’s supply chain and last mile delivery on the retail industry

the impact of wal mart supply chain

The splash Walmart makes in the retail pool is hard to ignore. Let’s take a look at how Walmart’s supply chain practices send ripples across the industry, nudging you and other business owners to maybe dance to a similar beat.

How they’re changing the competition

Walmart’s supply chain magic is something many want to mimic. Their knack for tight relationships with suppliers has made sure products are in-store when customers want them. This has pushed competitors to rethink their own supplier ties.

Also, Walmart’s love for tech has changed the game. They use cool tools for smooth talks with suppliers, making things like demand forecasting a breeze. Competitors are now also saying hello to similar tech to keep up with Walmart’s pace.

How they’re transforming last-mile delivery

The last mile — that stretches from the distribution centers to your customer’s door — has always been a tough nut to crack. But Walmart’s strategies here have made many sit up and take notice.

It even has other retailers questioning their old ways of relying only on outside couriers.

Plus, Walmart’s partnerships with third-party logistics providers have widened their delivery net; another move you may want to note!

Customers want more thanks to Walmart

Walmart’s supply chain and last mile delivery tunes have changed what customers expect. Fast delivery and options like picking up online orders in-store are now big hits among shoppers.

This trend is loud and clear. Customers love convenience — so if they can pop into a store to grab what they ordered online, it’s a win. And yes, other retailers are catching up with this tune, offering similar pick-up options.

The lessons here are so valuable for business owners like you who need to be in step with what today’s customers expect. Walmart’s moves show how tweaking your supply chain strategy, and embracing things like real-time data sharing with suppliers can have your supply chain dancing to a more profitable tune.

A look into the future of supply chain and last mile delivery

Walmart is like that kid in class who never stops asking, "What’s next?" Especially when it comes to jazzing up their supply chain and last mile delivery. They’re always on the lookout for the next cool thing that can make their operations smoother and customers happier.

Here are a few places you’ll want to keep an ear to the ground if you’re not already tagging along with these tools and techniques.

AI and ML: the next supply chain partners

Imagine having a smart buddy who helps you decide how many of each item to keep in stock so you always have just what you need on hand. That’s what artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can do for Walmart, making sure the right products are on the shelves at the right time.

Lots more businesses are sure to be using this tech to help the supply chain run smoother.

Tapping into IoT 

The Internet of Things (IoT) gives you eyes and ears all over the place. Walmart can track where products are in real time, making sure they get to where they need to be and when they need to be there. This can help the supply chain process go off without a hitch, and a lot of businesses will want to get on board.

Green beats: The sustainability rhythm

The green movement is not new to Walmart. They’re always looking for ways to reduce waste and use cleaner energy — like, maybe powering their distribution centers with solar energy or rolling out more electric trucks for delivery. 

These might be just a couple of ways we see more and more companies keeping their supply chains more sustainable in the future.

How is all this working out for Walmart?

Walmart’s got a tight routine when it comes to supply chain and last mile delivery. Their careful steps with suppliers make sure products glide into the stores just when needed. They have smart ways to keep an eye on what’s in stock and what needs ordering.

Their stage is set, too. They have a well-thought-out network of distribution centers, helping them deliver the right packages to the right doorsteps right on time. 

From warehouse to doorstep, the Walmart way

Walmart’s playbook of strategies is ripe for the picking. And with an eye on what’s bubbling up on the horizon, they’re geared up to keep refining their supply chain and delivery game. Their story is an example of what’s possible when you blend smart strategies with cutting-edge tech. 

On the supply chain front, Walmart’s got a full basket. They’ve tied knots with reliable suppliers to make sure goods flow in right when needed. Technology is their friend, helping to keep talks with suppliers smooth and insights sharp. 

They’ve got a knack for juggling inventory, too, making sure neither too much nor too little sits on their shelves at a given time. And let’s not forget the smart design of their distribution network, ensuring a smooth ride for products all the way to the stores. Their Retail Link system is like the cherry on top, spoon-feeding real-time data for better decisions.

Last-mile delivery is the curtain call in Walmart’s supply chain show, winning applause from customers with every package. They’ve got their own sets of wheels and teams of drivers, and they also shake hands with other delivery pros to extend their delivery reach. 

They’ve rolled in tech and automation to cut down delivery times and up the accuracy. Plus, they’ve got pick-up and click-and-collect options, giving folks the ease of grabbing their orders when it suits them.

Now, here’s where it gets exciting for you, dear business owner. 

Circuit for Teams tunes into the same rhythm of efficient last mile delivery. With features like live tracking, easy-peasy app navigation, automatic customer nudges on delivery status, and smart route planning, it’s crafted to jazz up your delivery game. It even lets you easily import delivery data, and the Shopify and Zapier integrations give you extra hands on deck. 

Real-time delivery tracking, proof of delivery with in-app snaps and signatures, and a lens into your delivery analytics — it’s got the works. Ready to groove to the beat of optimized deliveries? Take a step towards smoother operations and sign up for Circuit for Teams today.

And as you mull over Walmart’s supply chain chronicles, remember: the road to delivering smiles is paved with the right strategies, a dash of tech magic, and a sprinkle of innovation.

About the author

Heather Reinblatt
Heather ReinblattContributor

Heather Reinblatt is a managing editor currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. She spends her free time reading, trying new recipes, and cuddling her cat Paisley. You can find Heather on LinkedIn.


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