Wal-Mart: Try, try again

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm •  Published: August 12, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart thought shoppers would like the opportunity to use a smartphone app to scan items they want to buy as they walk through store aisles. In theory, they could speed through self-checkout.

But customers couldn't figure out how to work the "Scan & Go" app during tests in 200 stores, so Wal-Mart nixed it.

Instead of looking at the app as a failure, though, Wal-Mart took what it learned from "Scan & Go" to create another service: It found that customers like being able to track their spending, an insight that became the impetus for a national program that enables shoppers to store electronic receipts.

The story behind "Scan & Go" illustrates how traditional retailers increasingly are using the nimbler approach to innovating that Silicon Valley startups are known for. Rather than perfecting a program before rolling it out — as most retailers do — they're doing more testing and refining as they go along. If the tests work, they're rolled out nationally. If they don't, retailers shutter them and incorporate what they learn into other projects.

The test-and-learn approach comes as retailers face intense competition for U.S. shoppers, many of who are still struggling financially. Wal-Mart, for instance, has had sales declines at its established U.S. discount stores for over a year. The industry also is fighting to keep pace with rapidly changing technology and online retailers like Amazon.com that lure customers with low prices and beefed up services.

"Retailers need to fail often and learn quickly and adapt and then adopt," said Lori Schafer, executive adviser at SAS Institute, which creates software for retailers.

Here's a look at some Wal-Mart tests and what it's learning from them:

DELIVERY

DETAILS: Wal-Mart is testing same-day delivery of groceries, fresh produce and other products in San Jose and San Francisco in California and Denver. Shoppers select a time slot and their items are delivered on the same day if ordered by 8 a.m. Delivery fees range from $3 to $10.

It's also testing same-day delivery of only general merchandise like toys and TVs in Northern Virginia, Philadelphia and Minneapolis if ordered by noon. Customers pay $10 for an unlimited number of items.

In January, Wal-Mart began offering customers the option to order online and pick up their items in stores in Denver.

WHAT HAPPENED: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, said that same-day delivery has been well received. But in Denver, the pickup option is growing faster than home delivery. Executives reason that shoppers don't want to be holed up at home waiting for deliveries. It doesn't have any plans to roll it out nationally yet.

LESSONS LEARNED:

Ravi Jariwala, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the retailer is encouraged by the results of the tests. "We're trying to understand how we can provide convenient options for customers to shop online for groceries," he said.

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