Walmart Responds to Amazon Go with Mobile Checkout Program
Anyone who tries to convince you that Walmart and Amazon aren’t in a tit-for-tat kind of battle is absolutely lying to you. You can try to justify any which way that you want that these two mega retailers aren’t in a sort of retail arms race, trying to snatch up every last bit of consumers’ spending, but you’d be overlooking the very obvious signs that clearly prove otherwise.
The most recent example of this is Walmart’s announcement that they will bring mobile checkout to their stores in an effort to improve the checkout experience for their customers. The “Check Out With Me” program was tested earlier this year in the “Lawn and Garden Centers” at around 350 Walmart stores, but will roll out to all of Walmart’s 5,358 stores in the U.S. by Black Friday, the company said in a statement.
“Every day we’re committed to providing customers with the broadest assortment of quality products at great prices, but, during the holidays, we take that promise up a notch,” Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S., said in the statement. “And with new convenient ways to buy, we’ve never been in a better position to help our customers deliver for their families than this holiday season.”
The program involves Walmart associates using devices to scan customers’ items and collect payment throughout the store, which allows the shopper to skip the cash register and get out of the store much quicker. The devices, however, aren’t meant to check out an entire basket worth of product. Rather, they are capable of handling all types of products—from groceries, to apparel, to electronics—and will improve the experience for someone looking to grab one item and get out of the store quickly.
For the holiday shopping season, that means potentially clearing the checkout area of customers with bulky items and those with baskets with just a couple of items. The win for Walmart is a perceived uptick in sales as customers won’t abandon product because they’d rather not have to wait in long lines. And for the customer, it’s much the same—they can avoid those long lines by purchasing those items without having to go through the old, monotonous drill up at the cash register.
Walmart’s Take on "Go"?
Though it falls short of the full-blown cashier-less store that Amazon is starting to open in more locations across the country, Walmart’s “Check Out With Me” program hits at the same undertones—improving the shopping experience by speeding up the checkout process.
A recent survey of shoppers by Deloitte found that customers’ top reason for opting to not shop in-store during the holidays is their desire to avoid long lines and crowds. Convenience of the online experience (identified by 77 percent of consumers) beat out things like free shipping (72 percent), having items shipped right to your home (66 percent), and the 24x7 availability of online shopping (62 percent).
It’s a clear statement that the company is looking for new and innovative ways to find an answer to that number-one gripe, even if it means borrowing from the playbook of a competitor.
Whether or not it’s the best response to an Amazon Go remains to be seen. Some logistical questions that immediately come to mind with this new program: How does the “Check Out With Me” associate manage multiple customers trying to get out of there quickly? Will a half-structured line create more frustration for the customer than waiting in an organized line? What kind of stress will this new role put the associate under (especially during the holidays when you’re dealing with impatient shoppers)? The list could go on.
Additionally, this is a program that maintains the human touch in the retail experience—something that could be seen as a positive or negative depending on who you ask. Whereas Amazon Go uses sensors and cameras and other technology to track the shopper, identify what it is they took off of the shelf and charge them automatically when they leave the store (without having to have a single human-to-human interaction), the Walmart program still requires some sort of physical payment to occur.
But, at the very least, it’s an attempt by Walmart to actively improve one of the biggest frustrations that customers face in any traditional retail environment. And for that, they should be applauded.