Walmart debuts new mobile initiatives

BENTONVILLE, Ark.—Walmart (NYSE:WMT) welcomed the media to Arkansas for two days of events leading up to its annual shareholder meeting. The retailer kicked things off with an inside view of the changes that will better serve not just customers, but also employees, and offered a sneak peak of new mobile technology that will further omnichannel initiatives.

Walmart previewed a new mobile feature for its Sam's Club division aimed at improving the buy online, pick up in-store program. BOPIS grew 37 percent in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, according to the company.

Roughly half of all mobile orders are for pickup, and Sam's Club is making it easier for shoppers to get in, get their orders and get out. Eytan Daniyalzade of @WalmartLabs demonstrated a new feature in the Sam's Club application. The feature prompts shoppers to check in and estimate their time of arrival before heading out to the membership club. Once customers cross the geofence in the parking lot, the store is notified and associates can quickly gather any perishable items that require refrigeration, which dramatically cuts down on the shopper's wait time.

Club pickup is available at all Sam's Club locations and the new notification feature is being tested.

Walmart and Sam's Club have been quiet about mobile payments even as Apple Pay garners more widespread adoption and Google's Android Pay readies its release. Walmart is the founder of the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a mobile payment platform being developed by a consortium of retailers.

But, MCX is still in development and Walmart has adopted a wait-and-see approach. "We're looking at the many ways for the mobile experience to make it easier and faster to shop," a Sam's Club spokesman told FierceRetail.

Walmart is also piloting interactive maps accessible on mobile devices in 10 stores. The feature will locate any item in a Walmart store and identify the location by department and aisle number.

In the U.K., Walmart's ASDA is piloting a click-and-collect program that allows shoppers to order online and pick up, not from a store, but from a fully automated, stand-alone collection site. Shoppers simply drive up and scan a QR code or enter a confirmation number on the key pad. Within 60 seconds, their order arrives, delivered in separate bins to hold dry, refrigerated and frozen food.

There are no employees or inventory held at the pickup point. All items are picked and packed at a nearby store and brought to the automated collection site. ASDA plans to debut this click-and-collect center at the end of June.

At last year's shareholder meeting, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon pledged to do more for employees and has been making good on that promise, most recently announcing raise wages for 100,000 workers.

Walmart will be giving department managers more advanced handheld or mobile devices to help locate products in stores and better assist customers. Other changes are being made at the store level including a new, more relaxed dress code, the addition of corporate-selected music inside stores, and better climate control to make the store environment friendlier to associates.

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