Walmart Expands Online Grocery Shopping Efforts After Strong Repeat Business

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Walmart today expanded its online grocery-shopping service, which allows customers to shop online then pick up at their local stores, to a new market: Huntsville, Ala. The move comes only days after Walmart brought the same service to a handful of stores in the Phoenix area, as well. The retailer is still describing the curbside pickup option as something it’s “testing,” though it notes that, so far, in markets where both pickup and delivery options are available, pickup is proving to be increasingly popular.

While other retailers, including Amazon with AmazonFresh and startups like Instacart, have been testing online ordering combined with local grocery delivery, Walmart’s strategy so far has been to test out both pickup and delivery options, and see how its customers respond. In San Jose, for example, the retailer offers home grocery deliveries, while in its Denver market, both pickup and delivery are available.

However, the company’s more recent expansions, which also includes Bentonville, Ark., last fall, are focused on online grocery shopping with a curbside pick-up option.

The way the pick-up service works is that customers first do their shopping online, and then choose an option to pick up at a local store during a given time period. At the store, employees pick and bag the items in advance of the customer’s arrival, keeping cold items in refrigerated areas, as need be. When the customer arrives, they pull up to a designated area at the side or back of the store and place a call to a provided number or check-in via a kiosk.

walmarttogo-pickupThe store employees are then alerted as to which customer has arrived, and come out to the car with the groceries ready to be packed away.

Customers like the pickup option because it turns what can otherwise be a long, sometimes two-hour grocery shopping trip into something that gets handled in a matter of minutes. And unlike grocery delivery, you don’t have to wait around your home for the delivery or pay the associated delivery fees.

Those who use the grocery pickup option, where available, can order their groceries and pick them up the same day if they choose. To do so, customers can place orders by 2 a.m. to have them available by 8 a.m., and orders placed by 10 a.m. can be ready by 4 p.m. However, many other customers are scheduling their pickups for a day or several days in advance.

While Walmart currently declines to share any information about how many customers are now using its grocery pickup and delivery options today, how many orders have been handled, or the transactional volume of those orders, it would say that, so far, those who have adopted one of these options are highly likely to use it again. In Denver, for instance, more than 80 percent of its delivery and pickup customers are repeat customers.

What’s interesting about the markets where the online grocery shopping service is being tested is that they’re often outside of urban areas, where there’s more of a mainstream, “real world” customer base that doesn’t likely have a lot of options for things like same-day or on-demand deliveries – grocery or otherwise.

“It’s a hybrid approach to retail – not everything is going to be just online and not everything is going to be just in stores,” explains Walmart spokesman Ravi Jariwala. “I think we’re going to be one of the retailers that’s very well-suited to pursue those types of hybrid models, especially when it pertains to a category like grocery and consumables.”