Walmart's In-Store Strategy: Apps, AR, Dotcom Store Tech
Once upon a time, Walmart was your typical discount department and grocery store. It got people through the door by selling high-demand products at low prices. True, Walmart did this more successfully than most – starting way back in 1962 with just one store in Rogers, Arkansas, USA, over the decades, the retailer has since expanded all across the globe (11,000+ stores in 27 countries), and is now the biggest company in the world by revenue. But the retailer knows that in the digital age, retaining this title requires it to do more than bang the bargain drum. Today’s customers want more just than low prices. They want convenience, personalised services, and digital experiences – even when they visit their favourite discount store.
Today, Walmart is much more than just a cost-cutting efficiency machine. Since the rise of ecommerce – led, of course, by Amazon – Walmart has been speeding up its digital evolution to keep pace with rising customer expectations for frictionless commerce across both the online and offline worlds. Last year, the retailer completely revamped its website, giving it a sleeker design, a new colour palette, and loading it with lifestyle content to create a cleaner, much more contemporary digital shopping experience than customers had previously been used to.
Now, Walmart is on a mission to merge its online and in-store experiences with a range of innovative technologies that allow customers to pay for items in store on mobile devices.
Checkout With Me
There has been some notable trial and error to this strategy. In January last year, Walmart announced Scan & Go – a service that allowed customers to scan and bag items while they shop, and pay directly with their smartphones without waiting in line at the cash register. However, following a rollout to 100+ stores in 33 states across the US, the retailer pulled the plug on the service just three months later. “As of April 2018, we’ve completed the test run of Mobile Express Scan & Go,” Walmart stated in a note attached to a blog post about the service. “While the service has ended, we’re always working to bring customers more convenience, and so we’ll use what we’ve learned to improve this and other services in the future.”
Next came Checkout With Me – a new program that allowed customers in the Lawn & Garden centres of hundreds of Walmart stores to pay for items on the go as they shop, rather than having to go back inside the store to complete the purchase. Armed with cellular devices and Bluetooth printers, Lawn & Garden associates can check out customers and provide a receipt on the spot, saving them valuable time.
And there was still more to come. In November, Walmart Labs announced that an augmented reality (AR) scanner had been integrated into the retailer’s iOS app to help in-store shoppers make product comparisons. While most barcode scanners can only scan one code at a time, Walmart’s new AR scanner allows users to pan their smartphones across shelves and retrieve pricing and customer rating details on multiple products.
“We designed the AR Scanner to anchor dots to what you’ve scanned in reality,” explained Senior Engineering Manager at Walmart Labs, Tim Sears. “As you pan your phone between products you’ve already scanned, the bottom product tile updates based on which anchor you’re pointing at. The result is something that feels like an extension of an interaction you already do today. As you pan your phone around looking at a row of products, the product at the centre of your gaze is updated below giving you a way to very quickly compare by price and product reviews.”
With one final innovation to link its brick-and-mortar stores with its online site for the year, Walmart announced in December a new plan to help its retail store customers complete their purchases – even if the items they’re looking for aren’t available on the store shelves.
The new service – called Dotcom Store – allows customers to ask in-store Walmart associates to place orders for them on Walmart.com via an app on the associates’ touchscreen devices. Customers receive a receipt or email from the associate, which they then use to pay at the cash register in the store. Once paid, the items ship immediately – either to the store itself or the customer’s home. Walmart says the service combines the power of technology and Walmart associates to bring Walmart’s endless online aisle of merchandise to the retailer’s physical stores. In addition, customers benefit by being able to pay however they want – cash, cheque, credit card, or Walmart Pay – making Walmart’s entire assortment easier to shop, and more accessible to more people.
“The Dotcom Store offers customers even more assortment options than what’s on our physical shelves – whether that be different sizes, colours or varieties,” said Senior Vice President of Digital Operations, Online Grocery and Last Mile at Walmart, Tom Ward. “As busy families come to our stores, they can feel confident that our associates will get them everything they need and quickly – whether it’s an item they can find on our store shelves, or online.”
Walmart is clearly still in the experimental stages of transforming its traditional retail business into a technology-powered omnichannel trailblazer. As evidenced by the short-lived Mobile Express Scan & Go service, the retailer is deep in the process of figuring out which digital capabilities to integrate with its physical store experiences to enhance their value. It will be interesting to see what new programs and options Walmart rolls out next – and equally, which ones will go the way of Scan & Go.
You can hear Pavan Pidugu, Walmart’s Head of Global Store Transformation, speak at Future Stores 2019, taking place in May at Twickenham Stadium, London. Download the agenda for more information and insights.