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Walmart hits the digital transformation at warp-speed button but does it hit the spot?

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles May 26, 2020
The giant retailer finally provides customers an "experience" that lets you avoid ever going into a Walmart again. Provided you're willing to pay a premium for the equivalent of in-store service.

No more of this? (via Walmart)

If you're one of those people who always wanted to be able to be able to order eggs, bread, flour, strawberries, face masks, hand sanitizer and a new on-sale SAMSUNG 65" Class 4K UHD 2160p LED Smart TV with HDR, this is your lucky day.

Retailing giant Walmart, one of the businesses that is going gangbusters during the Covid-19 pandemic, has combined its grocery and Walmart apps to create a single destination for customers who have increasingly turned to online retailers for their needs.

Online and mobile shopping have been surgingthroughout the U.S.In fact, Walmart's quarterly earnings reported earlier this week that with increased demand for grocery pickup and delivery services, online sales grew 74 percent in the first quarter of 2020. In a statement, Janey Whiteside, Chief Customer Officer, Walmart, said:

We don't ask customers to make two trips to the store, one for groceries and one for all the other things they need, so we shouldn't ask them to visit two apps. Leading mobile data and analytics platform App Annie recently noted that our online grocery app was No. 1 in the App Store as customers turned at an unprecedented pace to pickup and delivery services--which is why we think there is no better time than now to integrate our two apps and bring them an even better, more comprehensive experience.

Which, of course, raises the issue of why they had two different apps to begin with, but that is probably a question that no longer matters.Online and mobile are still going to be the preferred avenue for many people once, and if, the pandemic ever ends. Said Whiteside:

Fifty percent of all online grocery orders are already coming from the new experience, and as customers have moved to the unified app experience, there's been an uptick in those same customers ordering general merchandise items like toys and gardening tools as they shop for their grocery essentials.

Walmart is currently rolling another "innovation" it calls Express Delivery which it says will deliver your purchases within two-hours. It is up and running in about 1,000 stores and will be available in nearly 2,000 total stores in the following weeks, the company said. The service allows customers to order across more than 160,000 items from Walmart's food, consumables and general merchandise assortment such as groceries, everyday essentials, toys and electronics. It also costs you an extra ten bucks on top of the standard delivery price.

In addition to Express Delivery, Whiteside says the company has added hundreds of thousands of new slots for online grocery pickup, creating greater access and availability for customers to reserve a time and get essentials. It has also added extra information and notifications via app, email and text message to communicate regarding pickup and delivery.

The app, she said, has been designed so that seniors, first responders and those with underlying medical conditions can easily identify and reserve "at-risk only" time slots. Customers can use the app to refill prescriptions, including drive-thru and curbside pickup.Walmart's first ever Chief Product Officer, Meng Chee, who joined the company in January from her role as head of digital customer experience from JP Morgan Chase, said in a statement:

The Walmart App is a great example of how all parts of the business rallied to create an easy to use online shopping solution. We walked in the shoes of our customers and selected their most pressing needs to solve for in days, not months. We launched contactless payment, Express Delivery, curbside pickup and thousands of new pickup slots--and at a time when our customers needed them most. This the beginning of our journey for the Walmart App, enabling us to focus our collective resources on continually innovating to address what our customers need most.

My take

Assume for a moment that that I am a relatively healthy 77-year-old man living in a near suburb of the small town of Charleston, South Carolina. Further assume that I have not set foot in a retail establishment of any kind for more than almost three months and have been properly terrorized to the point that I have no intention of doing so for the next decade or so. In short, I am the prime target of online and mobile apps, mostly groceries, but also various disinfectants and sundries.

For groceries, I have used Walmart's grocery app, a Whole Foods app, and a regional grocer called Harris Teeter. I don't like Whole Foods that much because they don't carry brand names and if I want Clorox, I want it to say Clorox on the bottle. They do have good fruit and vegetables. I began my online existence with Walmart and used their app for about a month. Their delivery was good in the beginning - usually the next day - although the delivery charge seemed a steep and I was also encouraged to tip the person who put the food on my porch. Then, about three weeks ago, the available times from Walmart got longer - a Thursday order would not have a delivery spot until Saturday.

I turned to the Harris Teeter app and discovered that they could deliver the same order sometimes on the same day or at latest early tomorrow. They have better fruits and vegetables than Walmart, name brands, and-the clincher for me -free delivery to people over 65.

The bottom line is that customers are paying attention and are learning to differentiate between vendors online based on factors that may not have been as important in an age when you had the luxury of shopping around.The center of the customer "experience," as my marketing friends call it, has shifted to a new focus on availability, delivery, and price.

As a by-the-way, I tried the new Walmart app and discovered I still couldn't get a delivery from 0.7 miles away for at least three days so all those extra shoppers and delivery folks must be working on orders for customers willing to ante up the extra ten bucks.

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