Will Walmart win back-to-school with click and collect services?

Photo: Walmart
Jul 14, 2017
George Anderson

For many retailers, back-to-school (BTS) represents the second biggest sales opportunity behind Christmas to boost their top and bottom lines. This year promises to be as competitive as ever as consumers alter traditional patterns of shopping and retailers look for ways to win their business. Among those retailers is Walmart, which announced yesterday that it has taken steps to make it faster and easier for customers to shop for BTS.

Walmart announced it has “substantially” expanded its selection of BTS and back-to-college (BTC) items that customers can order online using its Online Grocery Pickup and Pickup Today services. A new dedicated section on walmart.com called “TeacherLists” provides parents and kids with their school’s official supplies list.

The retailer is also positioning BTS “helpers” in stores — think the checkout elves it deployed during Christmas — to help customers who didn’t order online find the shortest lines and add any items that may have been forgotten while shopping.

“It’s always been our job to save our customers money and we aren’t changing — you can still find more than 300 items under $1 at Walmart this back-to-school season — but we’re doing more than that,” said Scott Bayles, vice president of stationery, Walmart U.S. in a statement. “We’re also saving our customers time with easy ways to shop and multiple ways to get these items to students, so everyone can ace their school shopping.”

New research from Deloitte suggests Walmart may be ready to post big numbers as 81 percent of those surveyed said they are planning to shop at mass merchants, a 24 percent jump from last year. Preconfigured classroom supply kits offered by sites such as School Tool Box (www.schooltoolbox.com) also figure more prominently in consumers’ plans with 30 percent of families planning to use them.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual BTS and BTC survey conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, total spending for school and college will increase 10 percent this year. The survey points to a growing school population, changes in the supplies being purchased for college students and general confidence in the economy as factors in the expected jump in sales.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways do you see consumers’ back-to-school and back-to-college shopping behavior changing and how is it affecting retailers? Is Walmart on the right track to increase its share of sales based on its announcement?

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15 Comments on "Will Walmart win back-to-school with click and collect services?"

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Max Goldberg

As consumers move online to e-commerce, retailers will have to follow. Digital natives have no problem doing almost all of their shopping online. Their parents, digital immigrants, are getting more comfortable with that concept. For years college students have ordered BTS items online and had them delivered to dorms or apartments. Walmart is trying to speed up the BTS shopping process. By doing this they will attract more sales now and gain valuable knowledge about how to operate their stores in the future.

Charles Dimov

Grab and Go (Walmart’s branding of click and collect) will play a big role in this year’s back-to-school shopping. Specifically, when it comes to the last minute crunch, the day or two before school starts, many will be scrambling over the weekend to get everything they need. That’s where Walmart’s omnichannel play will shine. Shoppers will go online, find what they need, then debate whether they want to wait and pray that the online order gets to them in time or take control, buy it and pick it up for themselves. That’s where they will see in-store pickup shine. Good thing they have in-store pickup lockers and an order management system to handle it all!

Art Suriano

The back-to-school shopping season continues to expand from at one time a few weeks before and after Labor Day to now about four months from July into October. That’s a long period, and shoppers focus on the essentials first and the secondary items later but all along they look for bargains and deals. Amazon has taken market share and Walmart is reacting wisely. The convenience of online grocery pickup and “pick up today” services will give them a competitive edge. Also, Walmart will remain competitive with their pricing which will provide them with a strong BTS season.

Ken Lonyai

This is probably one of the biggest areas of overlap between Walmart and Amazon, so grab the popcorn and a comfy chair — this one’s worth watching closely. It’s also a real test of Prime and same day delivery vs. click and collect as the last minute buying frenzy in early September kicks in. Too close to call!

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Depends. If consumers just need to get the items in the most efficient manner, then click and collect will be strong. If, however, BTS shopping is a ritual or rite of passage, then consumers may want to shop in-store. Maybe letting the kids shop online will be the new ritual.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Omnichannel shopping is the new normal, especially for the young who grew up with a mobile device in their hands.

But what strikes me about this article is how Walmart is appealing to harried parents during one of the busiest family transitions of the year. Walmart’s strategies of “make it easy” for mom with teacher lists, “BTS Helpers” and pickup options, have the potential to do more than increase sales. If Walmart can change the customer experience in ways that enable customers to continue using services like pickup, they can change the dynamics of their relationship with customers.

Walmart not only needs to win more with click and collect for back-to-school, it needs to win all year long. Traditional retailers have to transform to omnipresent 24/7/365, when and how customers want to shop and receive delivery.

Kenneth Leung

I think it will help since parents today are time crunched and have been trained by Amazon to expect items delivered their way. This will reduce stress for parents and give Walmart the chance to upsell and cross-sell additional items in the stores.

Lee Peterson

We’ve done two studies three years apart on what digital retail integration tools consumers want to see the most. What came in number one both times? Buy online, pick up in-store. “Put it in my trunk” pickup, not “wander through the store looking for the pick up station” pickup. Walmart is the only retailer I’ve seen that’s addressing that the right way with freestanding units you pull up to. It should help them tremendously (Target, where are you with this?) as they continue to roll them out.

Ken Cassar
Ken Cassar
Principal, Cassarco Strategy & Analytic Consultants
3 years 3 months ago

Back-to-school is a terrific solution selling opportunity for online retailers that hasn’t been very well exploited to date. There are strong opportunities for both delivery (think about a Prime Pantry type BTS solution) and for click and carry. With that said, there will undoubtedly be items that kids will want to pick out in person. Sometimes kids will want to touch, drop and kick the Pokemon lunch box before they decide that it’s the right one for them.

Manish Chowdhary

Walmart is on the right track with making BTS less of a hassle. With offering store pickup options and the Teacher List, it creates a stress-free way to get it done for users that are comfortable engaging online. And having in-store customer service to help the consumer find everything on their list, they are continuing to build that relationship with their consumer that may not be as comfortable online.

Understanding that back-to-school shopping can be stressful — for both the consumers that are more digital orientated and the consumers that would rather walk into the store and engage — is extremely important. Walmart is stepping it up with their BTS offerings to address their online consumers and their in-store consumers. These solutions will have an impact on their sales.

Dave Bruno

As Amazon continues to invest in convenience as a strategy, Walmart must respond. This BTS/BTC program is an excellent counter-punch that not only enhances the convenience for shoppers, but draws them into the stores for pickup where we know shoppers are highly likely to spend more. The addition of helpers inside the store is also a smart move. Lift … lift … lift!

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Walmart continues to play catch up in the online space with Amazon and others. This latest response to this ongoing battle may allow Walmart to leap frog Amazon on the BTS market. I’m not convinced it will have the same affect on the Millennials shopping for BTC supplies.

I do like the pickup and additional staffing. One other thought to make BTS more fun might be to have an in-store demonstration on a fun project like, “how to make the latest kid rage — slime!” It certainly would boost the sales of Elmer’s school glue! Let’s make the store visit more fun. This is something Amazon could not easily replicate.

gordon arnold
Retailers may be getting in step with consumer e-commerce transaction wants and needs by addressing several needs. Friendlier point of sale apps and site software have encouraged electronic migration by the consumer. A younger back-to-school crowd and colleges with a higher IT acceptance rate than past generations helps too. It is therefore easy to conclude that expansive market success in these sales events might be found elsewhere. The learning tools for students living in the 21st century have changed at a pace ahead of the retailers acceptance curve. As government(s) change throughout the world the one constant we have seen over the past several years is this lousy retail economy. This fact and cutbacks in corporate staffing have made it difficult for retailers to match consumer wants with shelf availability. This is why we see so many outdated products pilled high in main aisles during this event that refuse to turn at necessary levels. Pens, paper, books, mechanical organizers and so on and so forth seem to linger on in unsold inventories forever. Whenever I… Read more »
Min-Jee Hwang

The line between online and in-store shopping is becoming blurred as consumers seek an omni-channel experience that better fits their schedule and preferences. While Amazon is mostly limited to online sales (with the exception of some experiments with physical stores), Walmart is creating more options for consumers and is leveraging their workers and physical stores to accommodate for a variety of shopping preferences. With Walmart increasing online options, creating a more pleasant in store experience, and providing the option to order online and pick up in store, Walmart is definitely on the right track to increase its share of sales.

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
3 years 3 months ago

Walmart is making some good moves in blending the online and physical retail worlds in ways specifically targeting back to school shoppers. I see BTS as one area physical retail can maintain an advantage over pure etailing by leveraging good click and collect services that don’t force a customer to have to search for the pickup area. As long as customers get quick service at pickup, they may decide to linger in-store and buy something else.

Making it easy for shoppers to find school supply lists via online or mobile, setting up a quick shopping cart in a few clicks with the complete set of supplies, then allowing for pickup in-store makes the entire process smooth and easy. That’s how you reduce shopping friction! This should send a message to other retailers (Target, are you listening?) to come up with similar services.


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