As it turns the calendar on the first anniversary of its Store No. 8 project, Walmart has rebranded a program within it as "Jetblack" and begun beta testing its first initiative in New York City, Recode reports.
Jetblack is a text-based style concierge and shopping service for "busy NYC moms," sources told Recode, which also found a job listing describing it as aimed at a "high net worth urban consumer." A visit to Jetblack.com reveals a "Nice work, you found us!" banner and a way to request an invitation to the beta test, which includes a question about which family members the applicant shops for.
Additionally, Walmart looks to be testing a cashier-free store concept similar to Amazon Go called Project Kepler, and has posted a job for an engineer to "to create step change in-store experiences, leveraging emerging technology to help define and deliver on evolving customer expectations," according to TechCrunch. Walmart to comment for this story.
A little over a year ago, Walmart tapped Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Fleiss to helm the first project of its Silicon Valley-based Store No. 8 retail startup incubator and innovation lab, then named Code Eight. But that project has morphed into a new concept now launched as a beta test and Fleiss's current job is listed as "the CEO and co-founder of Jetblack."
Store No. 8 has also thrown its resources behind VR tech, including the February acquisition of virtual reality platform and content studio Spatialand for an undisclosed amount. The description of Jetblack neatly encapsulates the overall advantages of Walmart's tech efforts in general: "At Jetblack, we function like a startup and have the benefits of the largest retailer in the world, Walmart."
Since its purchase of Jet nearly two years ago, Walmart has acquired a series of fashion and home goods sites, and continued to operate each either as stand-alone sites or aligned with Jet. That helps the retail giant reach the younger, wealthier and more urban customer who in the past has mostly avoided Walmart's discount reputation, according to marketing experts and, to some extent, Walmart itself. "The plan has been for Modcloth and Bonobos, for some of that product, to be sold through Jet because the demographics they serve are very nicely aligned," Ravi Jariwala, senior director of public relations at Walmart.com, told Retail Dive last year.
The idea may also be to avoid the debacle of Walmart's last New York City-based attempts to go upscale. Nearly a decade ago, the retailer launched "Project Impact," an effort to improve merchandise, stores and customer service. Before that, Walmart placed ads in Vogue magazine and sponsored a fashion show there to highlight new, higher-priced apparel lines. Both were deemed disasters and quickly abandoned.
But it can be unwieldy to run two distinct banners, and there are signs that Walmart is overshadowing Jet.
"Arguably Jet appeals to a younger, more urban, more upscale consumer – but our data does not show they are distinguished on this," Pete Killian, partner at brand strategy firm Vivaldi, told Retail Dive in an email. "All online shoppers are younger and more urban. Jet’s demo is not Jet’s brand. Their brand today is not strong enough to reposition Walmart’s in appealing to a new demo. The goal is not to 'avoid association with Walmart' — Walmart's brand is much stronger than 10 years ago — but rather the challenge is how to have Walmart and other brands complement each other."
While there's no evidence that Jet is waning he also said earlier this year, "the logic of e-commerce brands dictates that the future of Walmart + Jet = Walmart."
The future may also dictate that Walmart create a store concept and technology to compete with Amazon Go. Project Kepler — a store without checkout lanes or cashiers — looks to be just that, according to TechCrunch.