Walmart making four stores test labs

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart is in the process of establishing four of its stores in the United States as test beds for new technology and physical enhancements. According to a blog posted by John Crecelius, senior vice president of associate product and next-generation stores, two of the test centers are already in operation, with two more to come on line.

In large part, the initiative is intended to enable Walmart’s current store fleet to function efficiently not only as in-store shopping venues, but as fulfillment centers for its e-commerce business — a function that rival Target Corp.’s stores already perform.

The inspiration for the test centers also seems to owe something to the Sam’s Club in Dallas that serves as a laboratory for testing new technologies developed by the chain’s own engineers, designers and product managers.

“To increase the speed at which we learn, 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,” Crecelius writes, noting further that some of the tests will be visible to customers, while others will not.

Among the tests currently under way is an effort to increase the number of products and categories that are available both in-store and online, thus creating a true omni-asortment. Specifically, in the first test store (the location of which has not been revealed) most of the apparel assortment is being moved online.

“We will continue to identify other hard-to-manage categories that we can work to make available,” says Crecelius. “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.”

The company is also testing a system that speeds up e-commerce order fulfillment by connecting in-store signage and handheld devices in a way that helps associates navigate to the correct location faster when picking online order items. Thus far, the initiative has significantly reduced the amount of time required to find items and, according to Crecelius, the percentage of times associates find an item on their first try has increased 20%.

Earlier this year at a Supercenter in Fayetteville, Ark., Walmart introduced an experimental checkout system that did away with checkout lanes altogether, instead creating an open layout in which the 34 checkout registers are equipped with green lights that alert customers and associates when a register is open.

Crecelius wrote that the company will continue to test new hardware and software solutions in an effort to enhance or create a contactless checkout experience that will “transform a transactional experience into a relational one.”

Another recent development receiving further test is an app that speeds up the time required to move items from the store’s backroom to the sales floor. According to Crecelius, instead of scanning each box individually, associates simply hold up a handheld device and the app uses augmented reality to highlight the boxes that are ready to move to the shelf.

Crecelius notes that this year has ushered in a new era for retail, and he foresees retail assets being used in new, multiple ways.

“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,” he concludes. “Evolving our stores is just the beginning.”



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