Walmart on Tuesday announced several improvements to its purchasing experience in time for the holidays, including arming associates with mobile devices so shoppers can check out items in store aisles, digital store maps appearing the retailer's app and a redesigned website to make shopping and returns easier, including allowing customers to return marketplace items to any one of its 4,700 stores, starting in mid-November.
The retail giant also said it has expanded its assortment in fashion, home, electronics and toys (with 30% new toys in stores and 40% online), according to a company blog post. Curated and editorial content (including a "deals hub" with regularly refreshed deals, gift guides and other content like its monthly "Ellen's List with Ellen DeGeneres"), make its assortment easier to discover, the retailer said.
Online, Walmart has designed category shopping destinations for the holidays, and the company reiterated its recent announcement that more items are eligible for free, two-day shipping, including millions of items from its online marketplace sellers, without a membership fee (but with a $35 minimum order, and not available in Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico).
Walmart joins rivals in elevating its holiday pitch to consumers this year, leveraging its thousands of stores to blur purchasing and return opportunities online and off. The mobile developments are by not exactly groundbreaking for retailers but show how Walmart is prioritizing mobile convenience for shoppers, both in-store and home.
The retail giant's stores in past years have become known for chaos at the holidays as shoppers rampaged for Black Friday deals, sometimes causing dangerous melees. Its new aisle checkout, where shoppers will have store staff at the ready in the busiest areas of its stores, including the garden center and electronics, should ease that. Customers can bypass regular checkout lines and pay for their purchases on the spot with the help of staff, the company said. The new digital maps will help shoppers find items while in stores and plan shopping trip before arriving.
The retailer, like Target and others, is boosting its toy assortment to take advantage of the absence of Toys R Us. But in all categories, holiday shoppers will be focused on finding the best price, according to a survey of more than 1,500 consumers from deals site BlackFriday.com. Shoppers in that survey named Amazon, Walmart and Target as the retailers they believe will have the best sales on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the deals site told Retail Dive in an email. "If retailers are hoping to draw in new customers ... they need to be aware that the best price always wins," according to BlackFriday.com's report. "When asked what would entice them to shop at a new store for gifts, 33% said better prices and 24% said convenience."
But quality is top of mind for shoppers this year, according to that research, which may be why Walmart has added new merchandise in several categories, touting additions like "more than 2,000 brands to offer a wide range of options, from cashmere sweaters to premium electronics."
Walmart is making that convenience play, too, and enjoys a massive store fleet to help in that. In its annual Holiday Retail Trends Guide, commercial real estate services firm called out Walmart for its strong omnichannel play, but noted that the competition is fierce. "This looks to be a strong holiday season for retail for several reasons," Brandon Famous, Chairman of CBRE's Global Retail Occupier Executive Committee, said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. "In addition to the tailwinds of the robust economy and strong consumer confidence, retailers as a whole have gotten smarter and more efficient with their omnichannel strategies and their programs for attracting and retaining customers."