Walmart’s “Store Assistant” Gives Mobile App an In-Store Edge

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Photo credit: Walmart

Retailers have awakened to the need for their mobile apps to better aid in-store shoppers. At Shop.org last fall, both Kohl’s and DSW revealed plans to add wayfinding capabilities to their apps so that consumers can easily locate products of interest they specifically came to their location to find—instead of simply wandering aimlessly (or frustratedly) through cavernous big-box stores.

Now, Walmart is jumping on the bandwagon with the news of the “Store Assistant” addition to its app, used by more than 27 million shoppers as of June 2016. The retail giant prizes its valuable app users, who spend 40 percent more than average and shop in store twice as often as those without the app downloaded to their smartphones.

Store Assistant, one of three key features included in the recent app update, appears when a shopper pulls up the Walmart application in store and displays a map of that specific store—no small feat with the retailer’s 4,700-strong fleet. Now, shoppers can find not just the aisle but even the shelf area where their desired product is located. A Walmart blog post suggests this is only the beginning. “Imagine dropping pins on a store map tied to the location of items on your list, enabling you to plan your route through our stores,” the blog said. Store Maps are live for select stores and are being deployed to the remaining locations. According to L2’s Omnichannel 2018 report, 63 percent of big-box retailers have an “in-store” mode built into their mobile apps, behind department stores (79 percent) but well ahead of fashion retailers (13 percent).

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Convenience has emerged as a major theme and trend in retail. Pressed for time and juggling myriad demands, many shoppers want the best, fastest, shortest or [insert superlative here] experience. That often means getting into and out of a store as quickly as possible, which has driven the rise of BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) and fueled the transformation of multi-channel, many-siloed businesses into truly omnichannel retail enterprises. By offering a feature designed to help shoppers make the best use of their time, Walmart might want to consider changing its slogan to “Save More Time. Live Better.”

The Store Assistant feature also includes an upgrade to the list-making function. Users can add a generic term, such as “socks,” to their lists and see inventory availability for matching products at the store of their choosing. Adding a specific product to the new and improved list will include any applicable taxes, and app users can see their total mobile app basket amount before even setting foot in store, helping budget-conscious shoppers stick with their spending limits. In addition, the app update also offers more detailed information about what they can find in each store, such as whether a Rug Doctor is available for rental or whether that location includes a Photo Center.

Walmart’s recent moves show how it’s considering and investing in all aspects of the customer journey, from the everyday—such as the app update—to the extraordinary, as indicated by its acquisition, via tech incubator Store No 8, of virtual reality software startup, Spatialand. What’s more, the retailer is trying to shed its low-cost image in chasing a more affluent Millennial customer, snapping up Bonobos and ModCloth and securing a deal to sell department-store brand Lord & Taylor’s wares on its e-commerce site.

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It’s all part of an effort to compete head-to-head with Amazon, which dominates online commerce and has made significant inroads into brick and mortar with last year’s acquisition of Whole Foods on top of its network of lockers, college shops and Amazon Books stores.

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