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Walmart boosts omnichannel push with click-and-collect in China

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 4.19.44 PMWalmart is putting some muscle behind its omnichannel strategy with the launch of a Walmart To Go pilot in China, including a new mobile shopping application for groceries, mobile payments, self pick up and home-delivery options as well as a dedicated team in each bricks-and-mortar responsible for app orders.

The retailer is leveraging its experience in the United States, Britain and other more mature ecommerce markets to fine tune the experience for Chinese consumers of ordering groceries online and picking them up in store or having them delivered. Walmart’s expansion into China is the latest example of how the competition is heating up in the market for groceries that are ordered online for offline delivery or pick up.

“The Walmart To Go program in China does seem similar to what the company is currently testing in the US, but the two markets are very different in penetration of technology and consumer familiarity with e-commerce/m-commerce,” said Derrick Lin, brand and mobile strategist at Resource/Ammirati, Columbus, OH. “Also, variables such as population density and consumer purchase behaviors may impact online and offline commerce.

“The goal of the program is to eliminate friction in choosing among a retailer’s retail locations, its online channel or going with competitors,” he said. “With the rising popularity of smartphones and e-commerce in China, the move seems straightforward but not without many logistical challenges.”

10,000 items
Walmart to Go was launched in 23 stores in Shenzhen, China this week with the goal of making it easy for consumers there to order the retailers products anytime and anywhere.

The program includes the newly launched Walmart mobile shopping app. The app currently offers more than 10,000 items, with 1,000 fresh, dairy and frozen SKUs as well as products in the grocery, health and beauty and household chemicals categories.

Additional items currently sold in physical stores will be added to the app in the future.

Customers will receive a reminder message on their mobile phones to pick up their orders.

Orders placed before 11 am for home delivery will be delivered on the same day. Orders above a certain threshold will be eligible for free delivery.

Consumer expectations
If a customer chooses to pick up an order at a nearby store, it will be prepared within approximately 4 hours.

“Consumers expect to get the same level of service regardless of how they go through the purchase journey,” Mr. Lin said. “Mobile is not necessarily the origin of the race but it is definitely intensifying competition and exposing retailer weaknesses and readiness to deliver timely service from multiple sources.”

Participating stores will also feature a To Go Service Center in stores for self pick up. Customers can also choose to have To Go orders delivered to their homes.

Each participating store will act as an independent customer service and operation center with a dedicated team of Walmart staff responsible for app orders. These trained specialists will handle the order-preparation process from product picking, packaging, to delivering or handing the products to customers in store. Fresh foods will be placed in insulated bags.

Mobile payments
To Go supports multiple online and offline e-payment options.

Customers can pay with Union Pay, Alipay and e-gift cards on the app. Walmart physical stores will also have special e-payment checkouts to accept Alipay and other mobile payment methods.

Once the program is has been running for a while, it will be tweaked based on customer feedback, with the goal of gradually expanding the service nationwide.

Walmart China’s president and CEO Sean Clarke discussed the retailer’s goal of becoming a trusted omnichannel retailer in China during the launch event for Walmart To Go. Mr. Clarke said the retailer will continue to innovate both online and offline to meet the changing demands of customers.

“The competition is still in its early phases and so far grocery retailers appear to be the early adopters – Walmart, Target, Meijer, Amazon Fresh to name a few,” Mr. Lin said. “Some retailers start to leverage non-traditional logistics services to fill in the gaps in their traditional delivery logistics – even Uber is entering the space.

“Eventually we may expect flexible, on-demand services to be a table stake,” he said. “It all depends on how fast retailers can transform themselves to be accessible and available whenever and wherever.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York