Wal-Mart has begun testing a giant vending machine in one of its stores in Bentonville, AR that dispenses items customers previously ordered online for in-store pickup, according to Business Insider.
The Wal-Mart machine contains many items of different sizes that have been ordered online by customers. When shoppers place in-store pickup orders, they receive a number and upon arriving at the store, they input the code into the machine to retrieve the package.
The machine is large enough that a portion of the Bentonville store ceiling had to be removed to install it, Business Insider adds.
Wal-Mart calls it an automatic pickup machine, and Business Insider calls its a giant vending tower, which makes it sound vaguely like something from "2001: A Space Odyssey." What it really is: The latest and one of the more original takes on buy-online, pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) strategies.
The concept of curbside pickup of purchased items is an even quicker way to get something already bought online, but isn't it also a missed opportunity for retailers to potentially sell an add-on item? Sure, the customer just wants a quick, efficient way to pick up a package and go, but once they're in the store, how about some batteries to go with the alarm clock you just bought.
Instead of picking up at curbside or standing in line at a specified location in the store, this scheme is a self-service kiosk. It neatly aligns with a trend toward self-service checkout in all kinds of venues — airports, grocery stores, gas stations — but this is even better, because you've already checked out online.
More than 60% of retailers worldwide already offered some form of BOPIS capability as of early this year. Walgreens and CVS are among other retailers to recently try it. But most are still trying to find the right recipe. These strategies are all about being flexible to customer needs and desires, but even as customers think they are getting around the mundane and annoying — having to wait in line like everybody else, or having to wait days for a package bought online to be delivered — BOPIS models do get them physically into the stores. Even if retailers deny it's the case, it's pretty likely they would like those customers to do more than pick up a single item once they're in the doors. That's what Target may have realized when it decided to end a curbside pickup pilot and focus more on other efforts to coordinate online and in-store channels.
We'll see where this goes. It's small test that Wal-Mart apparently was not going to make a big deal about until someone noticed. Wal-Mart is still seeking and collecting feedback from customers about the machine, and has not made any decisions about expanding the current test to other stores. It's true that retailers are adopting BOPIS approaches, but they are constantly tweaking them, and not much about the model has settled into formula yet.