With same-day delivery apps, cryptocurrencies, and other trendy tech innovations, it may feel as if shopping has been completely reshaped by digital technology. But according to Walmart International President and CEO Judith McKenna, consumers in the United States will soon see their shopping experience become even more transformed by technology. To get a glimpse of what’s coming, she said, just look to India and China.
“China is probably got the biggest digital ecosystem of anywhere,” said McKenna, speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. this week. “We’ve taken a lot of learnings from our China market,” she said.
McKenna emphasized that China is the most advanced nation in terms of consumer adoption of digital shopping tools, and that the U.S. will follow the country’s path to adopting e-commerce as the default for goods like groceries.
For example, Chinese online shopping behemoth Alibaba has dominated the e-commerce landscape, offering an online retail experience similar to Amazon. In 2016, Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, coined the term “New Retail” to describe integrating online shopping tools with in-person purchasing so the processes of ordering, payment, and even manufacturing goods are all in one company’s vertical. Alibaba opened 300 grocery stores in 27 Chinese cities since 2016. Walmart and Amazon have now both made forays into grocery businesses to create a similar “New Retail” experience for their customers.
Digital payment apps that allow users to pay for goods with their phones are also set to become a much bigger part of the shopping experience. McKenna pointed to PhonePe, a popular app in India which lets users pay at shops with the app and send other people money. According to McKenna, PhonePe processes about 3.1 billion transactions per month in India.
WeChat, the Chinese instant messaging app, became the world’s largest mobile app with over a billion users. Yet WeChat isn’t just a messaging tool—it’s evolved to become a digital payment app, so users can buy goods on the platform.
In the U.S., Walmart has rolled out its own digital payment app, Walmart Pay. “That way of digital adoption as a way to pay is safe, it’s secure, it’s easy, and it’s all right there,” she explained of digital payment. “It’s all connected to a mobile number,” she explained.
While grocery deliveries got a boost in the US during the pandemic, McKenna said that all signs pointed to an even greater consumer acceptance of such services in the future. “Customers want good prices, and they want good quality, but they really want [goods] whenever they want,” she said.
Over her two-decade-plus tenure at Walmart, Mckenna has gained important insights into the strategic balance between global growth and a local focus.
It’s especially important at a time when consumers have access to a vast selection of digital tools and services. The internet allows businesses to serve customers anywhere in the world. But McKenna emphasized that businesses still need to take a local approach with their customers. “The way we think about local versus global is the closer to the customer you are, the more local you’ve got to be,” she explained. “That’s where you need your tailoring,” she said.
Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.