Walmart this week launched a revamped mobile app with new features, including Store Assistant, which the retailer described as "a totally re-imagined experience for in-store shopping," that activates when shoppers visit physical Walmart stores, according to a company blog post.
When customers visit Walmart stores, the Walmart mobile app on their smartphones flips into the Store Assistant mode to offer features like a barcode scanner, product search bar, customer reviews and Walmart Pay. Other new features include: the ability to build shopping lists, automatically calculate total cart cost, including tax; and use in-store navigation and maps.
More mobile features are in the works, Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart Services and Digital Acceleration, wrote in the blog post. "Imagine dropping pins on a store map tied to the location of items on your list, enabling you to plan your route through our stores, and the ability to book services like an oil change in advance," he said.
After its acquisition of Jet.com, Walmart last year increased its commitment to digital operations, and at the same time reduced focus on building out new brick-and-mortar locations. That doesn’t mean Walmart is giving up on its physical stores. The company is also enhancing in-store shopping experiences with hopes to give customers capabilities that make those shopping trips more efficient.
Walmart’s mobile app can be the bridge. This move comes as the retail sector is finally beginning to embrace consumers' use of phones in stores. By introducing more mobile app capabilities that are useful in-store, retailers are gaining more influence into how their customers are using mobile in-store.
Of course, many retailers want to have their own mobile apps optimized to create a self-contained, on-the-go shopping experience, in which shoppers are searching, selecting and paying for products via mobile. They are trying to take to heart the concept of "mobile first," and designing their apps for where they believe most shopping trips will occur in the future — on mobile.
Walmart has figured out how to have the best of both worlds — and offer the same to customers — by creating an app that transforms to offer a different experience while in-store.
The retailer already was moving in this direction, with capabilities that have come out over the last several months, like Walmart’s Mobile Express returns service to help customers expedite merchandise returns, and its Scan and Go mobile checkout offering.
Now, we’re seeing the next phase of Walmart’s efforts to enrich its mobile app, and expand its usefulness. Walmart’s new list-building features nod to the notion that about 80% of Walmart customers make a list before coming to the store, Eckert wrote, adding that there's also potential for "smart" shopping lists.
The new Store Maps feature, has already been made available in a small number of stores, and will roll out to the rest gradually. That and the new depth of information available on a store-by-store basis are both things that in a subtle way may help individual Walmart stores forge a more personal bond with customers in their local markets.
Such capabilities bring Walmart closer to how Amazon leverages customer data and preferences to power its technological innovations — and in fact could take Walmart well beyond what any retailer is achieving with its in-store mobile strategy. In the course of doing that, Walmart also may be able to demonstrate that "mobile first" doesn't mean necessarily mean the in-store experience comes last.