Walmart announced this week it’s going to roll out more than 500 additional Pickup Towers to its U.S. stores over the course of the year. The towers, which are like high-tech vending machines distributing customers’ online purchases, were first introduced into nearly 200 stores in 2017.
The towers are one of the ways Walmart is taking on Amazon by leveraging its large brick-and-mortar footprint to encourage more sales. The company had also announced last April a “pickup discount” on a million online-only items, if customers opted for store pickup over shipping.
The idea is that customers could save more on their orders, then pickup in the store where they might buy more things, while also saving Walmart on shipping expenses. (It costs Walmart less to ship items to its stores using its fleet of over 6,700 trucks and its 4,700 some fulfillment centers, than it does to ship items directly to customers’ homes.)
Pickup Towers ties into that discount program, as they’re one of the ways shoppers can retrieve their online purchases faster, and without paying for shipping which could be required for purchases not covered by Walmart’s free 2-day shipping program.
To use a Pickup Tower, customers shop online as usual, then wait for the email that says their item is available in the tower at their local store. When they arrive, they scan the barcode they received at the tower’s kiosk computer, and the item is sent down through the tower right to the customer.
Walmart says that more than half a million orders have been retrieved through the towers since their introduction last year. Because the program was successful, Walmart will roll out more towers across the U.S., to reach over 700 stores by year-end – or 40 percent of the U.S. population.
In addition, the towers will be gaining a new feature to allow shoppers to pick up larger items, like TVs, which wouldn’t have fit before. Every new Pickup Tower that’s installed will also come with Pickup Lockers, where bigger purchases can be retrieved.
Walmart rival Amazon has also had a locker program in place for some time. And with its acquisition of Whole Foods, it began to use the grocer’s stores as a new location for its Amazon Lockers, boosting store visits.
Walmart’s Pickup Towers aren’t the only way the retailer is using its stores as a means of serving shoppers with investments in new technology. It also offers online grocery ordering with same-day curbside pickup and – in some markets – grocery delivery; along with Mobile Express Scan & Go, for skipping the checkout line in stores; and a partnership with Google for voice ordering and Google Express integration.