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Walmart sparks SMS innovation to transform in-store product search

Walmart invited bright minds in the tech industry to hack into its ROI, spawning an idea for an innovative shopping companion for in-store customers that leverages SMS to broaden reach to those who do not own smartphones.

The 24-hour competition sponsored by WalmartLabs prompted a bevy of techies to invent a new tool that will help innovate within the shopping experience. The retailer will be testing out the winning entry, an SMS-based system in which users with any mobile phone can message the in-store phone number and receive product location and information.

“Walmart has always seen mobile as the bridge between online and in-store shopping for our customers,” said Bao Nguyen, media relations at Walmart Global eCommerce. “We’ve launched several ways for customers to use the Walmart app as a shopping assistant in-store.”

Broad market appeal
While mobile technology regarding smartphones and wearables is becoming more prevalent within the retail landscape, a substantial number of consumers lack these devices and are prevented from using these tools. Walmart’s new initiative will serve a more comprehensive market, allowing anyone with a mobile phone to participate.

The Walmart Simple Text team, consisting of members Clara, Devin and Rachel, devised an in-store tool for shoppers looking for specific products. Each store will have its own designated number in which mobile phone users with text capabilities can message to locate an item.

When customers walk into a Walmart bricks-and-mortar location, signs will be located throughout the store with a listed phone number. Users will be able to text “hi” along with the name of the product they are looking for, and the service will respond with its availability and location.

The SMS service will also provide store assistance by connecting users who need more help and information with an in-store associate. The innovation serves a helpful tool for a wide base of customers, potentially changing the bricks-and-mortar landscape for Walmart.

Honorable mentions in the challenge include Quarry, who developed an autocomplete brain plug-in, which leveraged the Walmart metadata and filters to provide visual, intelligent and relevant search results. Also featured was the Easy Shop Club, who developed a 360-degree view of Walmart stores.

Walmart inventions
The retailer also introduced an Apple Watch application, which suggested that the device could have a broad market appeal while cementing the retailer’s role as a leader in mobile retail (see more).

Additionally, Walmart has expanded its grocery pickup service, which enables customers to shop their lists online or on mobile and retrieve items at a pre-selected time, bringing it to eight new regions as mass-market retailers compete for a larger share of consumers’ wallets (see more).

“When the Walmart Simple Text team presented their SMS idea to us at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Hackathon, we were drawn to the idea’s simplicity,” Mr. Nguyen said. “We will test this idea in one of our stores by the end of the year and it is among other messaging options we’re testing with customers throughout the U.S.”

Final take
Brielle Jaekel is editorial assistant at Mobile Commerce Daily