Walmart gives associates a tool to deal with out-of-stocks

Source: Walmart
Dec 04, 2018

Walmart is not known for having large numbers of associates on its sales floors, but it may need to add more if a new tech tool for workers becomes popular with customers during the holiday season. A new mobile app feature enables Walmart associates to search for items not sold at their location, order the item for customers and have it shipped free to a customer’s home or to the store for free pickup.

The retailer claims that one of the best features of the mobile app tool is that it provides a variety of payment options. Once an item is ordered, customers are given a receipt. They then can go to any checkout in the store and pay with cash, check, credit or debit card as well as Walmart Pay.

The new tool for associates is just one in a number of steps the retailer has taken to try and improve service levels in stores. Last month, Walmart introduced Checkout With Me, a mobile checkout whereby associates positioned in heavy traffic areas such as action alley, electronics and the garden center can check out customers.

Two years ago, the chain introduced its “Holiday Helpers” to help answer customer questions and reduce bottlenecks at the checkout.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see new tech tools being provided to store associates affecting Walmart’s reputation for service or will that require the chain to put many more workers in customer-facing positions?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"This is a great solution for dealing with stockouts and maintaining conversion. However I don’t see a need to limit it to an app only accessible by associates."
"Question is, is it an out-of-stock or an item not carried?"
"That’s called “endless aisle” and others (REI, Nike) have done it successfully for some time now. "

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33 Comments on "Walmart gives associates a tool to deal with out-of-stocks"

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Mark Ryski

Tools are only useful if they are put to practical use, and this fits the bill. If well deployed, this will be a win for Walmart, their associates and, most importantly, customers. Simply not being able to find product is a conversion killer and Walmart’s new app has the potential to convert people who likely would have left without buying into buyers. This sounds like a simple, practical tool that will help create a better shopping experience and ultimately capture more sales.

Sid K. Hasan

I agree, Mark.

Sterling Hawkins

Technology is only as good as the people who use it. Being well deployed is the key! Assuming it’s a good product to begin with, success is driven by 1) customer experience (awareness, ease of engagement, etc.) and 2) employee training. If Walmart can solve for those two pieces, I think they have another winner.

Sid K. Hasan

Mark, your thoughts remind of an article I read along my startup journey. It opened my eyes to cart abandonment — an epidemic that needs better medication.

Dave Bruno

I applaud the effort by Walmart to continue to try to improve the in-store experience, but I wonder why they limited this functionality to associate-facing apps.Why wouldn’t they offer the same feature through their consumer app? The free shipping for stock-outs is a great benefit, and as George noted in the article, associates are often scarce at Walmart. So why not put the phone’s GPS technology to work and offer the same service and free shipping directly to in-store shoppers? Seems like a missed opportunity.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Workers in customer-facing positions would be much more important. Why not kiosks with this tool, with big “Can’t Find It” signs? Let the customers do it themselves.

Jeff Sward

This could be a great tool for both immediate and longer-term needs. Sure, it solves the immediate problem for the customer standing in the aisle ready to buy. It may be even more effective for a longer-term solution. You don’t gather data on product you don’t offer and therefore don’t sell. You don’t know what you are missing. This process will fill in some of the gaps on what customers really want to buy on a location by location basis.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Inventory has always been a tightrope walk for retailers. Too much and you kill inventory turns and GMROI profitability. But out-of-stocks are even worse — you lose immediate sales and jeopardize future relationships with customers. Walmart’s new tool is a win on three levels: 1.) an opportunity save an immediate sale, 2.) an opportunity for customers to have a positive experience both in-store and online, and 3) an opportunity for associates to engage customers in positive ways. Success always lies in the details of execution. Training associates on how to engage customers will be even more important than training them on how to use tech tools.

Ken Lonyai

At first glance this sounds like an innovation, but all it amounts to is a mobile device accessing mobile Yawn. For that small minority of people that don’t have their own device or don’t shop online, there is some benefit. But for the majority of shoppers, I see little to gain watching an associate search a website for an item — something they can do for themselves. Maybe there’s the small advantage of not having to pay for the item in-app and then pay for other items at a register.

Better: focus on minimizing the out-of-stocks.

Bob Amster

Often times, the customer’s perception that s/he is being helped to checkout faster is enough to make it a reality. From that perspective, it is a positive move for Walmart. Additionally, if the in-store apps actually move customers through the checkout process faster, then it is a win/win. It probably does require more customer personnel.

Charles Dimov

I love that Walmart has been promoting its tools and people to push endless-aisle concepts. But it’s not isolated to just Walmart. To compete, more retailers need to have the right retail technology to show inventory visibility online. With that associates and customers can find what they need to achieve the same thing.

It is definitely a step in the right direction on the tech front. I also agree with Mark. Their associates need to know how to use these systems and actually put them into practice. Naturally there also have to be enough employees to be able to help customers (still a challenge with many big box stores).

Dave Wendland

Looking for new ways to empower associates to better serve customers should be an ongoing pursuit. I do applaud Walmart’s willingness and commitment to deploy tools and resources that can provide higher customer satisfaction. And using technology as the platform makes all the sense in the world.

I personally like that they are equipping “real” people in the aisles — people with genuine smiles, please, and thank-yous. That puts personality at the center which can lead to improved loyalty, increased market basket size, and emotional exchanges.

Ray Riley

A tool for this and a tool for that. Technology is intended to amplify human capacity, so in the narrow function of enabling out-of-stock merchandise, this is great. However, retailers of all shapes and sizes need to be thoughtful about the overall utility of technology they are providing store associates. Too many tools create little engagement, and a ton of cash laid out for little ROI. I don’t see this requiring Walmart to increase staff; they can easily get a kiosk that can automate this entire process after testing its success with live team members.

Liz Adamson
Liz Adamson
VP of Advertising | Buy Box Experts
3 years 11 months ago

This is a great solution for dealing with stockouts and maintaining conversion. However I don’t see a need to limit it to an app only accessible by associates. Walmart could roll this out to their consumer-facing app with signs in the store educating customers how to purchase out-of-stock items. Kiosks would work as well, especially for consumers not interested in downloading another app to their phone.

Adrian Weidmann

Anything — technology or otherwise — that can be successfully brought to bear to help the shopper is a good thing. At some point very soon these tools could, and should, be in the hands of the shoppers themselves. The success of these systems necessitates absolute visibility to inventory — deployed “in the back” or en route. We seem to be moving quickly to a place where the store is one big walk-in kiosk. All these trends are mandating that all manufacturers will need to tag their products (RFID or other?) and maintain 100 percent visibility to their products from their loading docks all the way through to purchase and beyond. This will allow the brands to control their own destiny while helping the retailers. The goal must be for retailers and their brand vendors to collaborate and support each other. They need each other to survive — or Amazon will drive their extinction.

Brandon Rael

There has been an emergence of storefront mobile/pad device solutions, yet as we all could agree upon, these devices do not solve the fundamental retail challenges such as inventory management, customer service issue, etc. From what I could see, the app provides access to the site and enables mobile checkout.

However, there are solutions out there that offer robust clienteling, assisted selling, and access to the omnichannel inventory availability in a native app. A mobile device with such light functionality will not be a game changer.

The fundamental challenge with any store associate’s mobile solutions are the adoption rates. Especially since with the new functionality, there has to be a degree of change management and redefining what the store associate’s roles actually will be. There are incentivization and compensations discussions that have to be had if Walmart and other retailers want to drive their customer service levels up.

Lee Peterson

That’s called “endless aisle” and others (REI, Nike) have done it successfully for some time now. It’s a GREAT idea and an even better idea for Walmart to add more (well-trained) associates to their sales floors to provide this service. Once again, Walmart seems to be one of the few retailers that is not going to take Amazon’s onslaught lying down. You go, Wally.

Mark Heckman

On bigger-ticket items that are offered at very competitive prices, I see this process being a winner. For an array of other out-of-stocks (OOS), I doubt if shoppers are going to take the time to track down an associate and create a separate transaction to make sure their favorite brand of guava juice is delivered, even if it is same-day. I believe the bigger problem with OOS at Walmart is three-fold; set integrity, space allocation and an effective recognition of OOS and re-stocking processes. All three of these issues are very solvable by re-stocking OOS items in a timely manner — a much more effective deployment of both technology and floor associates than ordering the item and having it shipped.

Dick Seesel

Target and Kohl’s have had self-service kiosks for a while to address the same issue, and Walmart ought to consider the same option. After all, they are not exactly known for high-density sales associates on the selling floor.

Lee Kent

I applaud the effort and the concept however, how many employees will be needed around the stores? I’m thinking a few well placed kiosks that say, “Can’t find it? Let us locate it and deliver.” Finding an associate to help can be very tricky and in stores that already have “call an associate” tools, it is often a very long wait and a conversion killer itself. That’s my 2 cents.

gordon arnold

Delegating a serious problem to an employee level with little or no ability to address the imperatives is a serious lack of competence. Let’s look further into this. The company is suffering from grave floor personnel shortages. The ones that are there are poorly trained and given very high priority tasking demands. A look at what the company calls customer service is nothing more than cashiers that can perform returns, exchanges as well as normal purchases. There is a higher level of frustration in all of this found in the weary consumer that becomes exhausted in the search for help only to find that what they need or want isn’t available in this location. One might call this an example of problem solving with 21st century “Superficial Intelligence.”

Sid K. Hasan

Opportunity, touch points, engagement — period.

Peter Charness

For those in this thread who said why limit this to Walmart associates, put the capability into the shopper’s app — I mean really, all the shopper needs on their app is a “find me an associate somewhere in this store to help me” feature.

For those shoppers who prefer the human touch — sure, why not? For others an app with a “scan/find my size/ship to my home now” button would seem to make more sense.

Andrew Blatherwick

If the Walmart app really is to compensate for out-of-stocks then they are missing the point. Solve the out-of-stock problem, do not put a Band-Aid over it with apps like this. The number of Walmart associates on the shop floor would not solve this problem as customers will get even more frustrated trying to find someone to help them, and then they have to wait to get the product delivered home or to the store for collection! What sort of customer service is that? Out-of-stocks in-store should not be a major problem if they have the right inventory management solutions to improve their availability. For the largest retailer in the world to be implementing an app to solve that problem is a very sad state of affairs.

If they are creating an endless aisle app that enable items not stocked at that store then that is a step forward, but it is hardly news as many retailers already have such facilities. Surely there are bigger improvements in retail to talk about than this.