Wal-Mart merges tech teams in online push

Shopping carts are seen outside a new Walmart Express store in Chicago July 26, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc is merging an Arkansas-based division that develops computer systems for its stores with a fast-growing technology unit in Silicon Valley, aiming to hasten its move to compete in the online era.

The information systems division, based at the world’s largest retailer’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, will combine with the @WalmartLabs unit next month, creating a new group called Walmart Technology, a company spokesman said on Friday.

Customers have grown more tech savvy, and they expect retailers to have technology that helps them shop more effectively whether they are using a PC or mobile phone or picking up an item at a store.

“Our customers don’t think of these as different experiences. To them, it’s just Walmart or Sam’s Club,” Neil Ashe, head of the company’s e-commerce division, said in an internal memo to staff seen by Reuters.

Ashe pointed to the recent launch of mobile payment service Walmart Pay as the kind of collaboration it hopes to foster with the organizational change. The service was developed jointly by ISD and @WalmartLabs.

In addition to competition from traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers, Wal-Mart is struggling to keep up with online rival Inc, which has been growing its e-commerce sales at a faster pace.

Chief Information Officer Karenann Terrell and Chief Technical Officer Jeremy King will continue to lead ISD and @WalmartLabs, respectively, although both will report to Ashe as head of the combined group, the memo says.

Reporting by Nathan Layne in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio