Walmart preps in-store SMS shopping assistant

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) could soon roll out a new mobile feature that lets shoppers access customer service in stores through a simple text. Simple Text is, quite simply, a virtual personal assistant for Walmart shoppers and helps locate items inside stores.

Shoppers simply text "hi" to an identified phone number, 415-214-8445, and are then greeted by a Walmart associate via SMS directing them to the item of their choice in precise detail. For more complicated or nuanced questions, shoppers will be directed to a live customer service agent.

                  Video courtesy of Drew Olanoff, TechCrunch

The retailer attended TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco last week and was looking for a few good hackers.

The hacker team was driven to create the app out of frustration with the size of enormous discount stores and supercenters. "It's such a huge store," hacker Rachel Tsao told TechCrunch. "I want to get my hot Cheetos and get right out," said fellow hacker and team member Clara Tsao. 

The team chose SMS over integrating the feature into Walmart's native app to reach a wider assortment of shoppers. "The demographic of large stores was our inspiration, most users don't know how to download apps or they don't know how to find an app," Clara Tsao said. "Plus, asking them to use their data plans is a big part of it. We really wanted something that helped them find what they need and it'll drive them to the app."

             Photo courtesy of TechCrunch

Driving shoppers to the app is the goal of many retailers and it's likely to be Walmart's, as well. But the retailer has always been adept at not focusing on technology for technology's sake. Rather, Walmart has a very clear customer profile and is creating services and products to meet the needs of that shopper.

Earlier this year, Walmart used SMS to promote gluten-free products in stores. "SMS is kind of the underdog of mobile marketing," said Kevin Almeida, head of mobile marketing strategy at FunMobility, which created the Walmart campaign. "There's a much higher engagement rate and an instant gratification moment in-store." 

"(SMS) It's a powerful interface, it's something that people are more and more accustomed to," said Devin Finzer, another hacker and member of the team at Disrupt Hackathon. "It's a gateway to an app."

For more:
-See this TechCrunch article

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