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On Wednesday, Walmart announced a new store design and layout it will roll out in coming months with a look and functions clearly inspired by competition from Amazon and the pandemic’s effects on big-box shopping.
The new design, which will come to 200 of Walmart’s 4,500 U.S. stores over the next few months and another 800 next year, leans heavily on technology aimed at helping customers complete their shopping trip as fast as they’d like, a paramount concern during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
That includes notably labelling aisles with numbers and letters to help shoppers locate them once the Walmart app directs them to the exact locations of items. The idea is also meant to spur adoption of Walmart’s app, to cultivate the habit of using it rather than Amazon’s, and to reduce shoppers’ frustration when they’re searching endlessly for an item. Shopping at Walmart has never been about browsing as one would at Nordstrom after all.
Regardless of whether a customer uses the app, changes to the store will be visible upon entering. For instance, there will be electronic information boards at the entrance that point shoppers to the main sections of the store—very much like signage you’d see at an airport, which the company said served as the inspiration, given their size and activity level.
“As customers enter the store, they are greeted with clean, colorful iconography and a store directory that encourages them to download and use the Walmart app while they shop,” said Walmart’s chief customer officer Janey Whiteside.
In addition, there will be non-tech touches such as words in bold, large typeface, like “SEAFOOD,” “BEEF,” and “DAIRY” to make a section easy to see from far. While this redesign was hatched before the pandemic, such touches will be helpful at a time when shoppers are making fewer but larger trips to stores, while eager to minimize the time spent there.
The redesign’s use of tech goes beyond maps and directories in the Walmart app and payment options. Shoppers can also use Walmart’s recently unveiled “Scan & Go” tech that allows shoppers to ring their up their orders themselves, something the retailer is betting will appeal to customers wanting to avoid contact with others when checking out—and to counter Amazon’s growing use of cashierless tech.
Some changes are also being made to store exteriors in a nod to how many shoppers no longer even set foot inside. There will be a big blue arch visible from hundreds of yards away to mark the area where online orders can be retrieved. Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce doubled last quarter in large part because shoppers could drive up to retrieve orders in the store’s parking lots.
Refreshing stores’ appearance and layout underscores the importance of modern stores even during this e-commerce boom. Target in 2017 launched a $7 billion program to update its stores to resounding success, revitalizing a big-box chain that had lost its way but is now raking in record in-store and online sales. Walmart also saw a big uplift a few years ago when it updated its stores, notably with new grocery areas.
As Whiteside puts it, referring to shoppers, “We want their time with us to be enjoyable.” Because if it isn’t, they have many other options.
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