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Walmart on Mission to Accomplish ‘Omni–Available’ Customer Experience

Walmart is taking technological measures to help its employees better and more easily serve its customers.

Walmart said it has identified four stores across the country to serve as test centers where the retailer will continuously rotate new technology, digital tools and physical enhancements in and out of the stores to help its employees better and more easily serve its customers. Two of the test centers are up and running near Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and two others will be in operation soon.

“This year has ushered in a new era of retail, and customers are asking for retailers to show up differently,” John Crecelius, Walmart’s senior vice president of associate product and next generation stores, said in a blog on the company’s website. “We have an amazing set of assets that have us well prepared for this next era, but we can’t stop there.”

Crecelius added that the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer is moving quickly to use its brick-and-mortar stores to not only serve in-store shoppers, but to flex to meet the needs of online shoppers.

“That’s where our new test stores come in,” he added. “Their purpose is to find solutions that help our stores operate as both physical shopping destinations and online fulfillment centers in a way that has yet to be seen across the retail industry.”

To learn quickly in a retail environment that sometimes seems to be moving at warp speed, Crecelius said that product and technology teams will be embedded in the stores “to prototype, test and iterate solutions in real time, scaling what works and scrapping what doesn’t, creating a true rapid prototype environment.”

Some of what Walmart is testing will be visible to customers and some of it won’t. Here are some of the things the retailer is testing:

Omni-assortment — Crecelius pointed out that not everything stocked in Walmart stores today can be found online. So, in the first test store, Walmart is moving most of the in-store apparel assortment online, and Crecelius said the retailer will continue to identify other hard-to-manage categories to make available online. “By doing so, we’ll learn what it takes to make all eligible items in the store truly omni–available for customers online and in the store,” he added.

Inventory speed — Crecelius said Walmart recently developed an app that speeds up the time it takes to get items from the backroom to the sales floor. Instead of scanning each box individually, employees just hold up a handheld device, and the app uses augmented reality to highlight the boxes that are ready to go. “Product gets on the shelf faster — something we all know is increasingly important,” he noted.

First-time pick rate — Walmart is currently testing how it can use a combination of in-store signage and handheld devices to help its employees navigate to the right locations when picking items for an online order. So far, Crecelius said the simple change has reduced the time it takes employees to find the items. In fact, the percentage of times employees find the item on their first attempt has gone up by 20% in some of the categories that tend to be hardest to pick. “What this means for customers is that their orders get filled faster,” he noted.

Checkout experience — The test stores will continue to build upon a new experimental checkout experience Walmart introduced earlier this year to help transform a transactional experience into a relational one. “We will continue to test different hardware and software solutions focused on enhancing, and even re-imagining, a contact-free checkout experience for customers,” Crecelius said.

In the “new era of retail,” assets that used to serve a single purpose will transform into flexible, scalable assets that can be used in multiple ways to serve customers how, when and where they need, Crecelius stressed.

“Evolving our stores is just the beginning. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll share more about how we’re reimagining our other physical assets to better serve the needs of customers today and into the future,” he added.