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Take note: Walmart goes upscale

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All early evidence points to an inescapable fact: Walmart is serious about expanding its customer base by upgrading its offerings, presentation and consumer options, both in-store and online.

Initial documentation of the retailer’s intent came with the opening, earlier this year, of an upscale store in Springdale, Ark., a location adjacent to its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters.

To summarize the store’s departures from its long-dominant prototype, the new unit has tailored its mix and presentation with an eye toward prompting additional purchases from some of the more affluent consumers who may currently shop Walmart mainly for basic grocery and general merchandise items.

Of particular note is the store’s new emphasis on up-scale cosmetics, a pursuit it accents both with luxury brands it has previously shunned and with a presentation as redolent of a department store or specialty store setting as of a discount offering.

Elsewhere, the new prototype is noteworthy for its upscale presentation of such basic categories as apparel, home furnishings and baby offerings.

Surrounding this new (for Wal­mart) approach to merchandise and merchandising is a roomier, more open shopping experience. Wider aisles, brighter lighting and “immersive” displays both simplify and modify the shopping experience by allowing shoppers both the time and the inclination to browse departments they had formerly taken for granted or passed by entirely. These displays invite, indeed beg, shoppers to touch, feel and test products — and, of course, to be inspired enough to purchase them.

Supplementing this in-store experience is a heightened “phygital” presentation that relies on online incentives. Heart of those incentives are QR codes strategically placed throughout the store that encourage shoppers to visit Walmart.com to shop a broader merchandise selection then can be found in the store.

There’s more to this new prototype — lots more. In its broadest terms, the new-store package invites (encourages, demands) Wal­mart customers and those who, somewhat surprisingly, have not yet shopped Walmart for the products and categories for which they have shown a preference at other retailers — like, say, Target or Costco.

Clearly, both for retailers that compete with Walmart and for those who as yet have found no need to, this is a big deal. And, based on Walmart’s past history and innumerable successes, it is a departure the mass retailing community would do well to follow, study and, even at this early stage, mount competitive thrusts against.

For the obvious truth bears repeating here: Whether as a retailer or supplier, you have been an admirer of Walmart or one of its many detractors — this is, after all, the world’s most successful retailer — for not a few very good reasons.


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