Walmart is back in build-out mode. Last year, the retailer rolled out 200 Pickup Towers across its vast store fleet — and at least another 500 are on their way.
At Shoptalk last month, Walmart e-commerce chief Marc Lore said to expect in-store pickup options at 2,200 stores by the end of the year. Pickup Lockers will also roll out in some stores to give customers the option of picking up larger orders.
On the topic, the discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:
What do you make of Walmart’s Pickup Tower expansion and potential similar concepts it may use?
Is there validity to the criticism of where the towers are placed within Walmart’s stores?
Here are nine of the most provocative and insightful comments from the discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for length and clarity.
Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions: Kudos to Walmart for leveraging one of their biggest assets — thousands of store locations. A huge advantage Walmart has right now over Amazon is click and collect.
However, to be successful, the experience has to be more than just efficient automation. Towers have the potential to automate and streamline the experience if properly placed in the store and/or the parking lot. Walmart seems to finally understand that innovation is a process and not an event.
2. Are you trying to be irrelevant?
Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor: A new way to make a 100,000-foot store irrelevant. This coupled with Amazon’s lockers in Whole Foods are based on the hope that people picking up will buy something. This is not likely due to the wall-like nature of the beast. Yet another way to erode the power of brick-and-mortar stores; they’re more than a warehouse and UPS store.
3. A sensible strategy
Neil Saunders, Managing Director, GlobalData: Walmart is exploiting one of its key advantages and assets — its comprehensive store network — to bolster its e-commerce business. This is a sensible strategy, especially with automated pickup which many customers prefer over the traditional customer service desk-based pickup, and which is also more efficient and cost-effective.
All that said, Walmart still has work to do in attracting younger shoppers to its e-commerce operation and in increasing the amount its existing online shoppers spend. Neither of these things will be resolved via in-store pickup initiatives, as sensible a step though this is.
4. Move it to the front
Meaghan Brophy, Managing Editor, Independent Retailer: I really love the BOPIS concept, but placing these towers in the back of their store might not be the best idea. Placing them in the front of the store would be more convenient for shoppers looking to get in and get out. A more prominent placement would also help let other Walmart shoppers know about the towers.
5. Learning from Amazon
Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC: At first blush, this seems like a responsive way to leverage your physical store BUT… it’s not just about reacting to Amazon. Breathe. It’s about learning from Amazon. Walmart seems to be reacting instead of learning.
While the tower and lockers are a good addition, it is not clear how these integrate and complement the broader store experience. This customer service should be an integral part of the journey not just a standalone functionality test/service. Walmart has the advantage of physical space. Now they need to figure out how to recreate the space and environment to inspire customers to want to return — again and again.
6. What took so long?
Lee Peterson, EVP Brand, Strategy & Design, WD Partners: Walmart is the first retailer to get BOPIS right. They also get BOPAS, with the drive-through setups they’ve created in over 1000 stores. Bravo to that. Only question is, what took so long? And if the answer is, “you know, we’re a huge hairball,” well, time for a trim!
I do like the way Walmart has decided to compete with Amazon though, and I think they can do that very well. I don’t care who you are, but if you’re a retailer, you should be paying attention to the way Walmart is executing on the innovation front. More to come, I’m sure.
7. Give consumers what they want
Camille P. Schuster, PhD, President, Global Collaborations, Inc: Experimenting with ways to provide convenience to consumers continues. Modifications continue in response to consumers’ usage and comments. If consumers find going to the back of the store inconvenient and complain or stop using the service or if new consumers do not use the service, then Walmart will have to respond. At the same time, other retailers are experimenting with similar concepts so figuring out what consumers want is critical.
8. What about human interaction?
Ricardo Belmar, Sr Director, Worldwide Enterprise Product Marketing, InfoVista: One of the advantages of a store is the human interaction the customer gets to make the experience a better one. Where is that factor in this BOPIS process? It seems Walmart wants to provide the convenience without the labor cost, but I thought we had heard Walmart was finding new ways for associates to engage customers in their shopping journey? This seems a little conflicted.
9. No more shiny baubles
Doug Garnett, President, Protonik: This is a smart evolution of the online store and solves many things at once. Placement in the store problems will be solved over time. But we should expect to see this approach expand to other retailers.
And I feel a bit shy of being so positive — retailers are far too often distracted by shiny baubles. But this is finally an idea that is no more shiny bauble, but something practical that solves a serious problem.