Walmart to help customers order and pay for online items while in stores

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 224 views 

Walmart is launching a new service to allow customers to purchase online items they don’t find in stores during their shopping trip.

Seeking to help customers fulfill their complete shopping lists while in the store, Walmart is now arming employees with handheld devices that can order out-of-stock items from Walmart.com on the spot, then print out a receipt so the customer can pay for them before they ever leave the store.

Walmart said customers can pay for all their purchases in the store, and the out-of-stock items will be shipped to their homes or shipped for pickup to the local store for no charge.

The new service, called Dotcom Store, is available in nearly all of the 4,700 Walmart stores and the service is offered year-round.

“The Dotcom Store offers customers even more assortment options than what’s on our physical shelves — whether that be different sizes, colors or varieties,” said Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital and central operations, Walmart U.S. “As busy families come to our stores to prepare for the holidays, 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.”

To use the service, customers have to locate a Walmart employee when they can’t find an item in a store, or an item that is out of stock or unavailable in stores. The Walmart employee will look up items sold and shipped by Walmart online on a store handheld device and place the order on behalf of the customer, with the option of shipping directly to the customer’s home, or to the store for pickup.

The customer will receive either a printed ticket or email/text with a barcode that allows them to pay at any register in-store. The shipment process begins after the customer pays for the item at the register and the transaction is complete.

The Dotcom Store app includes all products that are sold and shipped by Walmart. The retailer said it plans to add marketplace items on Walmart.com to the app in the near future. The technology also should give Walmart insights into the products customers are looking for and cannot find at their local Walmart stores. Walmart and other brick-and-mortar retailers don’t often know what shopper are not finding in their stores. This is a missed opportunity for sales.

Inventory management is a high priority for Walmart and physical stores simply cannot carry the breadth of assortment which can be offered online. Walmart, though, is now working to ensure customers do have access to that full assortment and can pay for these transactions in one simple transaction.

ANALYST REACTION
Walmart is trusting its employees to execute the new service and it is not a customer-facing application. That could be tricky to pull off, given employees are sometimes hard to find in a store depending on the time of day or night.

Retail experts overall applaud Walmart for the effort to help customers get everything on their shopping list purchased in one trip. That said, several retail insiders would prefer Walmart give the technology to consumers and not rely so heavily on its own sales force to carry out the transaction.

RetailWire led a discussion on the topic on their website Tuesday, (Dec. 4).

Dave Bruno, marketing director at Aptos, noted in the discussion, “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, but 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.”

Mel Kleiman, president of Humetrics, said he has personally experienced how tech tools are making a difference on his past two shopping trips to Walmart. His suggestion to Walmart is to combine the out-of-stock app with mobile checkout to raise the bar on customer service, rather than have a customer try and track down an employee for help.

Stephen Needel, managing partner at Advanced Simulations, would like to see Walmart use kiosks for the task, similar to what’s being done at Target and Kohl’s. He said to place big “Can’t Find It” signs near kiosks and let the customers do the work themselves.

Others think Walmart is merely patching its out-of-stock problem with the technology. Andrew Blatherwick, chairman of Relex Solutions, said on RetailWire if the Walmart app really is to compensate for out-of-stocks, then the company is missing the point.

“Solve the out-of-stock problem; don’t put a Band-Aid over it with apps like this,” he said. “The number of Walmart associates on the shop floor would not solve this problem as customers are likely to get more frustrated trying to find someone to help them … If Walmart is creating an endless aisle app that enables items not stocked at that store, then that is a step forward, but hardly news as many retailers already have such facilities.”

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