Walmart has turned two stores into test centers to explore new solutions to operate its stores as online fulfillment centers.
The retailer plans to operate four test stores in total. Two locations are up and running now in Northwest Arkansas, a spokesperson tells RIS. The next two stores will be transformed into test centers in the coming months. Inside these test labs, Walmart will continuously rotate new technology, digital tools and physical enhancements in and out of the stores.
“To increase the speed at which we learn, product and technology teams will be embedded in the stores to prototype, test and iterate solutions in real time, scaling what works and scrapping what doesn’t, creating a true rapid prototype environment,” John Crecelius, SVP of Associate Product and Next Generation Stores, Walmart U.S. said in a blog.
One of the tests will include an app that Walmart recently developed to speed up the time it takes to get items from the backroom to the salesfloor. The app was developed in house and a spokesperson tells RIS the team has been working on this effort for more than six months. Instead of scanning each box individually, associates can hold up a handheld device and the app uses augmented reality to highlight the boxes that are ready to go, Crecelius explained in the blog. The goal is to get inventory to the shelf faster.
Walmart is also currently testing how to use a combination of in-store signage and handheld devices to help associates navigate to the right locations when picking items for an online order.
“So far, this simple change has reduced the time it takes our associates to find the items,” Crecelius said. “In fact, the percentage of times associates find the item on their first attempt has gone up by 20% in some of the categories that tend to be our hardest to pick. What this means for customers is that their orders get filled faster.”
These test stores will focus on categories that are more difficult to manage, such as apparel the spokesperson says, items that are currently locked up like electronics, and custom orders like made-to-order food items, for example.
These lab stores will also continue to build upon a new experimental checkout experience Walmart began testing earlier this year. The retailer will continue testing different hardware and software solutions to improve the contact-free checkout experience. Additionally, in the first test store Walmart has moved most of the in-store apparel assortment online. It will run tests like this to learn what it will take to make all eligible items in the store truly available for customers online and in the store.