Walmart is testing ‘endless aisle’

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Stepping up its battle against Amazon.com Inc., Walmart is piloting an “endless” toy aisle in selected Texas stores.

The retailer has deployed touchscreens in toy departments to link shoppers to all inventory. Products that are not in stores can be ordered online.

“We’re testing how to interact with the customer differently, understanding better how they want to shop,” Walmart chief financial officer Brett Briggs said at the Raymond James Investor Conference this month. He compared the touchscreen favorably to “clunky” ones he has seen ­elsewhere.

He called it an “endless aisle-type concept” that could help a customer shopping for a niece, nephew or friend’s child, for example. “It asked me some questions,” Briggs said. “ ‘Do you want a gift?’ ‘Yes, I want a gift.’ ‘Is it for a boy or girl, or it could be either.’ ‘Choose either.’ ‘Pick the age you want.’ It chooses the best-sellers for that age.”

Briggs said Walmart is also testing its Scan and Go technology at the stores, and it has eliminated most of its full-service checkouts. At one store the company has just six full-service checkouts. Customers who don’t use them can use express self-checkout or Scan and Go, which allows them to pay via smartphones.

Chris Bryson, founder and chief executive officer of omnichannel shopping facilitator Unata, said, “There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for engaging consumers digitally while in-store. Walmart’s recent testing of kiosks to create an endless aisle is a great way to not only engage the shopper but provide more options and convenience, which is never a bad thing.

“It’s a strong offense against any potential shopper frustration that might arise from unavailable products and also ensures those dollars aren’t lost to another retailer (online or off-line).”

The kiosk could also be used for items that might not fit in a car, or are too heavy to carry home, Bryson added. “It all comes down to the user experience, which needs to be quick and easy to be successful. It will be interesting to see how Walmart communicates the kiosks in their stores, which will also impact its success.”


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