A former retail space in the Harmon Parking Facility on the University of Arkansas campus will be transformed into a retail innovation and technology lab through the generosity of Walmart Chief Executive Officer and Sam M. Walton College of Business alumnus Doug McMillon.
A gift made by McMillon and his wife, Shelley, will be used to create the McMillon Family Retail Innovation and Technology Lab in the space previously occupied by The Parking Spot store in the parking garage on the south side of campus. The funds come from a gift the McMillons made in 2014.
“It’s exciting to see the Retail Innovation and Technology Lab come to life,” Doug McMillon said. “Customers want a shopping experience that blends seamlessly into their lives, and that requires a constant focus on new technologies and services. We hope this lab will spark great ideas, create a community around retail innovation and demonstrate the incredible possibilities of a career in the industry. We can’t wait to see the passion and creativity the students of the U of A will bring to this work.”
The McMillon Family Retail Innovation Fund will increase opportunities for advanced retail studies. The endowment will fund the new Retail Innovation and Technology Lab being designed and implemented on the south side of campus.
The lab is believed to be the first interactive, open-to-the-public university retail lab created to test technologies expected to change the future of retail. Its first series of experiments are expected to launch by March.
“We are grateful for Doug’s engagement in enhancing our retail programs and are excited by the creation of the McMillon Family Retail Innovation and Technology Lab,” said Matthew A. Waller, interim Walton College dean. “This space will inspire students throughout the university to bring innovative, creative ideas and discover new ways to think about retail. This will help to highlight an education that involves innovation and a customer focused mindset that is both global and digital. It will allow us to provide education and conduct research on the integration of physical and digital shopping, including major business functions such as operation, logistics, buying, merchandising, etc.”
Sue Sedberry, managing director of the Retail Innovations Lab in the Walton College’s Center for Retailing Excellence, said, “The high-trafficked garage location previously managed by the bookstore will be transformed into a flexible facility allowing testing and experimentation of technologies ranging from asset protection devices, merchandise displays, online ordering services, omni-fulfillment models and other retail-related processes. Students and faculty will have the opportunity to plan, execute and analyze various retail designs and services to better understand how technology is changing the retail landscape.”
She said the new lab would complement “fab labs and maker labs” springing up on campus and across Northwest Arkansas. “The McMillon Family Retail Innovation and Technology Lab will serve as the showroom for retail industry ideas,” Sedberry said. Initial projects will be related to lighting, music or store aesthetics; experiments with supply chain processes including drones and scooters for delivery of online orders; and demonstrations of new technology such as holograms and augmented reality.
“The goal of the accessible lab, which will be open to all U of A students to experience, is to educate, entertain, evaluate and create retailing for the future,” Sedberry said.