Walmart Canada Launches ‘Blue Labs’ Innovation Incubator to Create Retail of Tomorrow [Interview]

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Walmart Canada recently launched its Blue Labs initiative which is the retailer’s new incubator and innovation team tasked with creating the retail experience of tomorrow.

“It’s an extremely exciting time to be in retail,” said Lee Jeyes, Head of Innovation, Blue Labs. “We are making investments in tools, technology, and our people to enable them to better serve our customers every day. We are excited to partner with the tech ecosystem on helping us shape the future of retail.

Lee Jeyes

“What Blue Labs is is Walmart Canada’s first ever innovation incubator. So if you think about the role of an incubator, typically it’s a safe, secure environment where you try to nurture some things that ultimately at some point will go on and grow into something bigger.

“So for us, that could be potential opportunity from an innovation perspective. It could be a large organizational customer problem where we just want to bring it into the lab and spend a lot more time on it and break it down. Or it could be future talent. So you think about, 75 per cent of the roles that I’ve just hired for Blue Labs are brand new to the organization. They’re bringing fresh perspectives, capabilities, that frankly we never really had in the organization and that’s enabling us to use that talent to build future capabilities and scale. We also hired design thinking specialists to come in and help inside of the lab and they did bring a fresh and different perspective and capabilities that typically wouldn’t exist in certain parts of the business.”

Image: Walmart Canada Blue Labs at Collision 2022

Jeyes said the goal is to incubate the organization and the biggest challenges for customers and to develop innovation for the future of retail and also build the future talent and capabilities for the organization. 

Walmart announced Blue Labs recently at the Collision Conference in Toronto.

“Technology has changed the retail landscape forever. Whether through e-commerce, automation or customer customization, the future of retail will rely heavily on digital innovation and we want to be at the forefront,” said Nicolai Salcedo, Chief Technology and Data Officer, Walmart Canada, in a news release. “We envision a shopping experience that is people led and tech empowered and we’re creating teams that are bringing the best solutions for our customers.”

Walmart Canada operates a chain of more than 400 stores nationwide, serving 1.5 million customers each day. Walmart Canada’s flagship online store,, is visited by more than 1.5 million customers daily. With more than 100,000 associates, Walmart Canada is one of Canada’s largest employers and is ranked one of the country’s top 10 most influential brands. 

Image: Walmart Canada Blue Labs at Collision 2022

The company said Blue Labs sits at the edge of Walmart Canada to transform the future of retail. It actively collaborates with Canadian and global innovation ecosystems to incubate disruptive and radical innovation, transforming the future of how, why and where people shop.

“I think it’s an exciting time for us and an important time for us to play a much more proactive and active role in the Canadian technology and innovation ecosystem. It’s one of the best in the world and we would definitely want to play a role, especially over the next few years as it becomes more challenging in that space,” said Jeyes. “The potential opportunity is to partner and co-create and co-develop with the lab.”

Blue Labs is based in downtown Toronto.

“Retail has always been a team sport and the rules are decided by the customer. And as the customer’s expectations change, we need to stay relevant and remove friction from that experience,” he said. “Walmart’s always been on the forefront of innovation whether it’s from its early days, Supercentre concept . . . online grocery, expansion to different markets.

“Innovation has always been important and enabled us to thrive over the last 60 years. But if you think about the next year of Walmart it’s going to continue to play a role to think about how we serve customers. The role of Blue Labs is to make sure that we’re innovating truly on behalf of the customer and thinking about how we solve a lot of customer friction points and reinvent retail for the future.

“But actually our role is to innovate with much more of a longer time horizon. So right now a lot of the innovation teams across the business are working on nearer term innovation and that’s very, very important. You see a lot of innovation happening in our stores, in our distribution centres and e-commerce. The horizon to that innovation is typically on a zero to three, zero to five year time scale. The role of Blue Labs is to think a bit longer tail and how do we focus on what I would call disruptive or radical innovation.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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