Davis named global chief of consumer insights

Walmart earlier this week named Cindy Davis EVP of a newly created global consumer insights business unit. She will be responsible for understanding broad consumer trends world wide and creating advanced analytical tools to support Walmart’s business, a sizeable task considering Walmart’s expanding global empire and the diversity of markets being served.

“Cindy is uniquely suited to lead the development of our new world-class global customer insights team for Walmart,” said Brian Cornell, president and CEO of Sam’s Club. Davis, who joined Sam’s in 2007, reported to Cornell in her prior role as EVP membership and marketing for the warehouse club division and will continue to do so in her new role, which is somewhat of a curious reporting relationship given her responsibilities are global in nature while Cornell overseas a Walmart business unit whose operations are limited to the United States. Be that as it may, Cornell said Davis “is a leader that understands the importance of putting the customer at the center of everything we do, and the power insights can have on business decision making. She has demonstrated an ability to build teams and capabilities that deliver business performance today while preparing us to capitalize on our business potential for the future.”

The appointment of Davis follows the creation of a new global insight unit announced a little over two weeks ago which essentially combines existing insights teams headed by Pam Whiteside, VP customer insights for Walmart; Lind Vytlacil, VP member insights and innovations for Sam’s Club; and Jim Scantlin a senior director information systems.

It will be interesting to see how this new global insights group is able to contribute to business results considering the company’s recent past. You may recall Walmart’s domestic business unit three or four years ago dramatically beefed up its marketing department and undertook major consumer research projects to develop a segmentation strategy, which failed to produce positive sales results.

Walmart knows what shoppers want and has for a long time: to pay as little as possible for the highest quality products they can afford. Depending on one’s station in life, that can mean scoring a deal on a two-year-old Mercedes after the original owner ate most of the depreciation, or picking up a high grade gemstone on Samsclub.com to avoid the markup at Tiffany. For others, it means saving a few cents on commodities essential to life such as the wide range of food and consumables Walmart offers.

Not to diminish the responsibilities awaiting Davis, and perhaps not fully understanding how this new organization fits in to the grand scheme of things at the company, it does seem that more finely understanding the subtleties of shopper preferences is only as good as the company’s ability to execute on the strategies that result from the insights gained.

According to Davis, “understanding customer insights enables us to focus on what our customers want and make informed decisions throughout the organization -- bringing shoppers the products, brands and services they want in every country we serve.”