In its ongoing quest to provide “anytime, anywhere” access to its stores and goods, Walmart is launching a series of programs more reminiscent of cutting edge start-ups than the typical American strip mall. The social and mobile technologies that the company is introducing have a good shot at broadening Walmart’s in-store appeal and making it easier for customers to shop in new ways.
First, Walmart is taking a cue from higher-end retailers like Harrods, and adding a GPS-enabled component to its mobile app. “Geofencing” prompts users of the Walmart iPhone app to enter “store mode” at a physical Walmart. The app provides the ability to place in-store orders on out-of-stock items, check product prices, and access an aisle-by-aisle product locator. Expanding on Geofencing is “Endless Aisle,” which is still in beta, but lets shoppers use their smartphones to scan QR codes and access a broader range of product than what’s available in-store. (And yes, they can then purchase those items via the app.)
Last year, Walmart began to use ShopyCat in conjunction with its Facebook page. The app, a social gift finder, recommends presents for friends based on their Facebook usage and likes. With 20 million Facebook likes, the app provides a range of useful data on Walmart’s customers’ preferences. The app itself, meanwhile, is quite similar to Wrapp, which works with a range of retailers to provide a social gifting platform via their Facebook pages.
Lastly, the company is employing the monthly subscriber sample selection model popularized by the beauty site Birchbox, except Walmart is testing it out for food products. “Goodies” lets shoppers use the service to try out new foods and review them.
Overall, the latest Walmart programs comprise a multi-platform, smart approach to mobile and social commerce. Going forward, this is key — it ultimately allows the different channels to enhance the in-store consumer experience rather than diminish it.