Will Walmart’s new lab stores cook up something big?
Walmart is serious about creating seamless experiences for its customers no matter where they are doing that shopping. The latest evidence is the news that Walmart is converting four stores into laboratories to serve “as both physical shopping destinations and online fulfillment centers in a way that has yet to be seen across the retail industry,” according to a company blog post by John Crecelius, SVP of associate product and next generation stores for the retailer’s U.S. business.
The labs, two near its headquarters in Arkansas that are operational and two as yet unnamed, will be the first that embed both product and technology associates on a permanent basis in the stores. The goal is for the stores to “prototype, test and iterate” in the real world so that Walmart as an organization can learn at a quicker pace.
Mr. Crecelius notes that some changes being made by Walmart “will be visible to customers” while others will not.
He listed tests that will take place in the labs, including an omni-assortment experiment in the first store. Walmart does not currently stock everything it sells in stores online, so the retailer is moving most of its in-store apparel assortment online while looking for other opportunities to do the same in other categories. By broadening its online selection in this way, he writes, “We’ll learn what it takes to make all eligible items in the store truly omni-available for customers.”
Walmart Test Store Views – Source: Walmart
Walmart is also testing ways to move products more quickly from the backroom to the front of the store. Associates with handheld devices use augmented reality technology to identify boxes that are ready to be moved.
Another experiment is testing how a combination of in-store signage and handheld devices can help associates with handheld devices more quickly find products for online orders. In what Mr. Crecelius calls a “simple change,” initial tests have shown that the percentage of times associates find the right item the first time has gone up by 20 percent in some categories.
Walmart is also committed to addressing the biggest pain point for many shoppers in stores — the checkout experience. While not going into detail on the specifics, Mr. Crecelius writes that the experimental checkout experiences are part of a test begun at a store in Fayetteville, AR, earlier this year that is focused on turning “a transactional experience into a relational one.”
- In This New Era of Retail, We’re Testing New Ways to Operate, and It’s the Customer Who Wins – Walmart
- New Checkout Experience Seeks to Eliminate the Wait and Add Options at the Register – Walmart
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do Walmart’s working lab stores where tech and product associates are assigned on a permanent basis represent a breakthrough for the company? What do you expect to come out of the stores for Walmart’s business as a whole?