Walmart Is Treating Its Stores Like Apps
Walmart is a technology company. Let’s just put that out there right now. The company has crushed all competitors through its mastery of supply-chain logistics and inventory management, which above all are engineering problems.
But until recently, most of Walmart’s tech has lived behind the scenes. That’s changed because of smartphones. As Walmart pushes mobile as an integral part of shopping at its stores, the company has started to treat changes at those stores much like app makers handle the rollout of new features.
Case in point: Walmart’s expansion of its iPhone self-checkout option. Walmart said this week that its iPhone self-checkout option is now being tested in 14 markets, up from two when the service debuted last year. As of now, app-based self-checkout is available in more than 200 stores.
How it works: When you open Walmart’s location-aware main app in a store that has iPhone self-checkout, the so-called “Scan & Go” option becomes available. You scan the barcodes on items as you put them in your (physical) shopping cart, and the app keeps a running total. When you’re done, you go to a standard self-checkout station and choose the “mobile” option on the terminal next to the card swiper. A QR code appears on the screen. Scan the code with your phone, and the app transfers over the contents of your (virtual) shopping cart. Pay as usual, and you’re done. (Walmart has a video that explains the process.)
Walmart engineers are no doubt iterating on the app all the time. But what’s more interesting is the way Walmart self-consciously iterates on the store level. When new “features” are introduced in stores, they’re made available in roughly three phases: test, beta and rollout. With the new expansion, Scan & Go appears to have entered the beta phase.