Innovation

A Look Inside Walmart's Next-Gen Test Stores

The world is navigating a cultural revolution into the digital age.

Meeting customers’ needs is critical as they adopt more digitally-driven lifestyles, expectations increase and increasingly shopping options do not require a trip inside a store.

With this in mind, Walmart is testing new approaches in two recently opened supercenters in Tomball, Texas, and Lake Nona, Florida. These stores were fully reimagined from a new layout to building and environmental enhancements to added technology that all improve the shopping experience.

Keep reading to learn more about these new retail environments. Or, if you’re in the area, drop by and look for yourself.

New Layout
We started with customer shopping behavior to reimagine the layout for these two stores. For example, services like the beauty salon and tech repair are adjacent to relevant merchandise. Health and wellness departments are consolidated to create a single destination. Baby, toys, kids' apparel and kids' shoes form a single destination to ease mom’s shopping journey.


Scan & Go
Speeding up checkout is critical to improving customer experience. So we’re testing Scan & Go technology that works both on personal smartphones and Walmart-provided handheld devices. Customers are greeted on their way into the store by a large bank of these Scan & Go wands, and new digital produce scales have been added to make scanning weighable items much easier. The Scan & Go fast pass checkout lanes allow customers to bypass the traditional checkout process, which makes a quick trip faster than ever.


SmartLife
New interactive projection technology allows customers to learn about connected devices (think Google Home, Apple TV, Nest, baby monitors and connected thermostats) and get answers to what is important to them. Since images are projected onto tables and walls, there’s no chance of accidentally damaging a product, and the product details can be updated more quickly through this new platform. This technology is found in the entertainment section of the store, as well as in hardware, baby, and health and wellness for relevant department items.


Integrated Pickup
Shoppers can use the outside drive-thru to pick up not just their weekly groceries, but also their prescriptions and Walmart.com orders.


Extended Aisles
Step into the Tomball Supercenter and you’ll find interactive screens offering access to an extended curated selection of online-only items in almost 100 categories. Customers can order products, pay with the rest of their basket at checkout and pick up two days later.


Appointment Setting and Ordering Technology
Need your deli order, fast? These stores test a new appointment and ordering kiosk system where you place your order, go shopping, then come back to quickly pick it up. If the initial test in the deli area goes well, it could be expanded to pharmacy, Auto Care Center, beauty salon or anywhere ordering and appointment setting occurs.


Next-Gen Call Buttons
Shoppers simply press a Wi-Fi-connected call button and wearable GPS-enabled devices alert associates that assistance is needed. Associates wearing these devices are trained in specific store areas and are on call to help in the furniture, paint, fabrics, sporting goods and bikes areas of the store.

So what’s the bottom line? By rethinking stores and testing new ideas with customers in real-life stores, we are improving customers’ experiences and making it easier than ever for them to get what they need as quickly and easily as possible.

Editor’s Note: You can learn more about Walmart’s in-store tests in this piece from Good Morning America.

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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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Business

Millennials Make Waves in This Episode of ‘Outside the Box’

Millennials are making waves.

They are now leaders of industry, business, media and retail. They are shaping the way we get information and goods. They can also be a bit controversial.

But whatever you think of them, you definitely can’t ignore them -- especially millennials as successful as Mic.com co-founder Chris Altchek and Natasha Case, co-founder of ice cream company Coolhaus. In Episode 4 of our podcast, Outside the Box, we sat down with them both to discuss their respective businesses, millennials and the stereotypes of that generation.

Chris, after years of taking wildly different political jobs, realized he was really passionate about finding solutions to people’s problems. So he decided to become a journalist – a job where he could come in without bias and help share the truth. Today, Chris manages a successful news site that reaches 60 million people – a lot of them millennials – a month, in an environment where he says trust in the news is at an all-time low.

Natasha, whose goal was to make architecture cool and accessible, found that mixing food and architecture did the trick. Starting with a broken-down food truck at Coachella, her business Coolhaus now sells architecture-themed ice cream at over 6,000 locations across the U.S.

As with any stereotype, it’s dangerous to lump everyone into one bucket. So what do Chris and Natasha think about the labels some have put upon their generation? Check out the episode to hear for yourself.

Listen to previous episodes and subscribe, and tell us what you think in the comments below.

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