In an effort to boost online sales and give shoppers an easier experience Walmart U.S. has added a mobile check-in feature for its stores with an online grocery pickup service.
The retailer announced the launch Thursday (Nov. 10), three weeks ahead of Thanksgiving.
Sam’s Club has offered mobile check-in, but this is Walmart’s first attempt at the service for its growing grocery pickup business that will be available in 100 markets by the end of the year. Walmart recently turned on the mobile check-in option in all of the markets offering online grocery pickup at stores.
Once a shopper places an online grocery order and receives a confirmation that it’s ready for pickup the customer uses the Walmart Grocery app to “check-in” when they are about to go to the store. The “check-in” status then signals store employees to begin assembling items in the customer’s order. As the customer pulls into the pickup area the employee is there waiting ready to load the grocery order into the customer’s vehicle.
Walmart is hoping an easier process for customers to order online and pickup groceries will pay big dividends.
Tina Budnaitis, Walmart store manager at the Pleasant Grove supercenter in Rogers, said the soft test of the mobile pickup was popular with customers once they tried it. She said it saves them three or four minutes in the pickup process, or maybe longer if the order also includes Walmart.com general merchandise item like a chair that has to be pulled from the back of the store.
“Customers who use the mobile check-in can now have their grocery order and general merchandise ready to load when they pull into the bay. We still offer the in-store pickup option with the kiosk and waiting area at the front of the store for those who want to come inside and buy a few more items they have left off the list,” Budnaitis told Talk Business & Politics.
When asked how she expected the service would be used ahead of Thanksgiving, she said each holiday pickup is growing in popularity with customers because it also helps them have more time planning for the holiday meal and less time shopping for the ingredients.
“We have some customers who basically do their entire holiday cooking order online, including the turkey. We expect that will continue,” she said.
Logistically, Budnaitis said the mobile check-in option sends a ping to a store once the shopper is on their way. The previously packed order is pulled onto the cart, the frozen and refrigerated items are added last. Once the shopper pulls into the parking lot another ping is sent to the employee’s tablet to alert them to head for the pickup delivery area.
“We require shoppers pull into the bay and we are there waiting when they do, within a second or two,” she added.
Michael Bender, Walmart.com executive, said earlier this year that 90% of Walmart grocery pickup users are repeat customers. Walmart has not said how many of its store customers are using the service. Walmart continues to offer promotions in some markets to spur demand for the service with incentives of $10 or more for using it or referring it to friends. Walmart continues to say its own feedback relative to pickup is overwhelmingly positive.
Getting people to try the service the first time is perhaps the largest hurdle given that consumers are creatures of habit and shopping for groceries online is still far from mainstream. Keith Anderson, vice president of strategy and insight for Profitero, told Talk Business & Politics that pickup grocery is more costly for Walmart to operate than the traditional store model because of the added labor costs for picking and processing the online orders. He said Walmart isn’t offering pickup necessarily to get new customers but to give its customer base another way to purchase groceries.
“It’s not a purely defensive play against competitors. It’s about retaining the shoppers they already have,” Anderson said.
Other retail experts applaud Walmart’s grocery pickup strategy that is now also offered in select markets by its largest U.S. grocery competitors, H-E-B, Kroger and Publix.
Another aspect of offering the mobile check-in option is that it drives shoppers to the Walmart mobile app, where they can use WalmartPay, activate Savings Catcher and automate prescription refills.
Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail, said the retailer can also gain benefits from the mobile check-in feature in addition to the customer benefits, but the added service will require additional pressure on Walmart to execute flawlessly and consistently on a store-by-store basis, regardless of store traffic volumes and staff levels. Shoppers are doing their part, Walmart will be expected to do the same, she said.
“Although privacy concerns might be a major obstacle, it will be interesting to see if geolocation and the ability for Walmart to track a shopper’s journey to the store will be a possibility,” Spieckerman added.