BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart has been quietly beta testing a new membership-only shopping service and while news leaked earlier this month of the program, Jetblack was officially announced Thursday as part of the media events surrounding the company's annual shareholders meeting.
Jenny Fleiss, Jetblack co-founder and CEO, described the program as the next level of convenience and online shopping. In fact, that's how Jet.com's Marc Lore pitched it to Fleiss when he lured her away from Rent the Runway, which she co-founded with Jennifer Hyman, who continues to lead that business. Lore is now CEO of Walmart's U.S. e-commerce business and Fleiss is helming this startup, the first to come out of Walmart's Store No.8 incubator.
Here's how it works:
Members are onboarded with an initial 10-minute phone call to determine preferences. Some may choose to also have a home visit where Jetblack employees check cupboards and scan products and brands to build a more thorough essentials list for daily shopping.
Shoppers can then text questions and requests to Jetblack. Need a recommendation for a child's birthday party gift? Three options are offered and upon selection, the shopper is prompted for delivery info (to home or party recipient), offered personalized card messages and gift wrapping.
Household items or other other requests are treated in the same manner, most orders placed before 2 p.m. will be delivered the same day, although special requests or more unusual orders can take longer. The service uses a combination of artificial intelligence and human knowledge, for what Fleiss described as a unique combination of expertise across multiple product categories.
Jetblack is sourcing products from Jet and Walmart, and is working "unofficially" with other retail partners including Pottery Barn, Gap, Bluemercury and a handful of smaller boutiques in New York City, according to Fleiss.
Members pay $50 a month, although that fee will be evaluated as the program grows. And while users may be juggling a few memberships such as Fresh Direct, Amazon Prime, Peapod, etc., Fleiss said the current fee is paying for itself very quickly. After all, in Manhattan that's just a couple hours of babysitting services rendered unnecessary by Jetblack.
And Jetblack is clearly targeting upper-income shoppers, busy moms and two-income households — urban parents who are typically buying 10 items per visit. In fact, it only delivers to buildings with doormen to receive deliveries (customers leave the delivery parcel with the doorman for retrieval, as well).
Members are given Jetblack branded Air Pods and orders can be placed using a voice to text option. But traditional SMS is currently the communication method of choice, according to Fleiss. Members can surreptitiously text requests as they come to mind, checking something off their to-do list while in a meeting or at a child's event.
As the model scales, Jetblack will monitor the membership pricing structure, widen the delivery area to include Brooklyn and non-doorman buildings, and broaden product selection and partners, said Fleiss. Jetblack is not currently offering cold chain grocery but does have pantry items, something else that could change as the program evolves. Fleiss also sees an opportunity not just in other dense urban areas, but outlying geographies as well, where selection and services can be more limited.
A big part of the appeal, according to Fleiss and Jetblack member Kimberly Sketon, who joined her in Bentonville for the media event, is the culling of choices to just three, eliminating the need to page through an endless aisle of product options. Jetblack's technology evaluates products and reviews, and offers up the best prices based on comparison software, adding to the value equation for members.
While Fleiss would not reveal the number of members in the beta test, she said there are thousands now on a waitlist to join.