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Target CEO Brian CornellTarget CEO Brian Cornell took a shot at Walmart. Business Insider

  • Target CEO Brian Cornell alluded to Walmart‘s work with robots and virtual reality as “nice little experiments that distract the organization.”
  • He made the comment during a panel discussion at Business Insider’s IGNITION conference in New York on Thursday.
  • Cornell said Target focuses its innovation research on ideas that can be rolled out to stores and online within a three-to-five-year time frame.

Target CEO Brian Cornell took a shot at Walmart’s innovation team on Thursday, alluding to its work with robots and virtual reality as “nice little experiments that distract the organization.”

Cornell made the remarks at Business Insider’s IGNITION conference in response to a question about retailers, and more specifically Walmart, experimenting with store-of-the-future concepts.

“Walmart has their Store No. 8, where they are doing robots and VR,” Bob Safian, the editor of Fast Company, said during a panel discussion with Cornell. “It sounds like you are less concerned about things that are further out and more focused on things that are going to have an impact on a shorter time frame.”

In response, Cornell said: “Experimentation is interesting but if I can’t scale it — if i can’t do it 1,800 times — it’s not going to add a lot of enterprise value.” The number 1,800 is a reference to the number of Target stores in the US.

Cornell then added: “To do things at scale, they have to have broad-based applications. Otherwise they are nice little experiments that distract the organization and distract resources that really need to be reapplied to the core enterprise.”

He said he is specifically focused on innovations that Target can roll out in stores and online within a five-year time frame. 

“We can do anything once,” he said. “When I think about innovation, I’ve got to think about ideas we can scale across the entire United States.”

To assist in that process, Target has partnered with the venture capital firm BCG Digital Ventures to launch a 14-week “innovation sprint” aimed at coming up with new ideas for growing the retailer’s business. 

The project involves Target managers teaming up with BCG Digital Ventures’ designers, engineers, and investors to generate ideas for new products and potential businesses.

The 14-week “sprint” is coming to a close this week, and on Friday the teams will present their ideas to executives, Cornell said.

“We’re going to see some pretty exciting ideas,” Cornell said.

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