With holiday shopping starting to heat up, Walmart is investing to make this year its biggest festive sales season ever.
For example, it plans to be jolly yet efficient at its US stores this fall, with empoyees (once again) working as Holiday Helpers assisting customers—from picking up gifts they’ve ordered on Walmart.com and assisting in busy departments, to steering customers to the shortest lines when they’re ready to check out and hosting “product parties” to demonstrate (and move) inventory, according to USA Today.
— Walmart Newsroom (@WalmartNewsroom) November 1, 2017
As Walmart notes in its press release,
Walmart is bringing back its popular Holiday Helpers – associates dedicated to assisting customers – and will increase the number of them in stores to help customers during the busiest times of the season. Holiday Helpers can be easily spotted wearing festive reindeer hats [that say “Rock This Christmas”] and will provide support in Pickup and popular departments, like toys and electronics. They will continue to assist customers in the front of the store at checkout.
In other seasonal commitments, Walmart is:
• Expanding its product assortment in-stores and online to offer more items than any other season, including new national brands and more exclusives than ever before.
• Offering more than two million items for free two-day shipping on more than two million items—”without a membership fee”—on orders over $35, including some of the hottest products of the season, along with time-saving conveniences like Pickup Today and Online Grocery Pickup.
• Walmart.com has also expanded its assortment, more than tripling the number of products available this year as compared to last holiday season.
• I’ts offering even lower prices on gift-giving for kids this holiday season with hundreds of toys now on Rollback pricing.
• For adult gift-giving, Walmart customers will now be able to choose from national brands not previously available at the retailer, like Cuisinart, KitchenAid and Yankee Candle. Walmart is now also offering Bose headphones and speakers on Walmart.com and in select stores.
— Walmart (@Walmart) October 28, 2017
“Serving customers is our everyday passion at Walmart, and during the holiday season we work even harder to deliver what our customers want most…to save time and money,” stated Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S. “We’re leveraging our more than 4,700 stores and Walmart.com to deliver more assortment, exclusives, convenience and savings than ever before.”
Walmart is pedaling furiously to try to make up ground on Amazon in the e-commerce donnybrook that is reshaping retailing. And just when Walmart seems to gain ground, the juggernaut that is Amazon finds a way to pull ahead. In-home delivery has emerged as the most recent case in point.
To be sure, Walmart has made huge strides in e-commerce over the last couple of years since its brain trust decided to go all-in to try to hold off Amazon for the position of world’s largest retailer. Walmart is unique in how it can combine the strengths of its bricks-and-mortar chain with e-commerce to field an entity that Amazon still can’t match even after its acquisition of Whole Foods Markets.
So far this year, for instance, Walmart has posted an impressive 60% gain in e-commerce sales, ranking it as the third-largest online marketplace in the U.S.—and growing total online sales faster than Amazon and eBay.
Walmart has achieved this with the acquisition of Jet.com last year for more than $3 billion, which in turn landed it the services of e-commerce whiz and Jet.com Founder Marc Lore. As he took over all of Walmart’s e-commerce operations,Lore introduced two-day delivery on online Walmart orders over $35, giving shoppers an option to Amazon’s $99 Prime service.
Jet continues to operate as a standalone site and part of Walmart at a corporate level. And Walmart also has picked up fashion and apparel brands including Bonobos and Moosejaw, giving its customers more options for e-commerce as well.
And at its stores, Walmart is offering online customers discounts for picking up their packages in-store and saving on shipping costs. As part of its digital pilot projects, it’s experimenting with having workers drop off deliveries on their way home. It’s also testing “pickup towers” that operate like giant vending machines in stores, where customers can scan a receipt and see the product arrive in front of them.
But in its latest area of digital testing, Walmart has been reminded once again that Amazon remains the 800-pound gorilla of digital commerce.
In September, Walmart enthused in a blog post about its test with August Home for warehouse-to-refrigerator delivery of groceries. August Home is a smart-lock startup that was just acquired by the maker of Yale locks. For Walmart, August Home is testing a service called Deliv that uses passwords and remote cameras to give a driver entry to a customer’s home, right on through to the fridge in the kitchen.
“When I enter my house later that day, it’s like magic—the items I purchased from Walmart.com are waiting for me, and my groceries are nice and cool in the fridge, as if they never left their display in the store,” enthused Sloan Eddleston, vice president of Walmart e-commerce strategy and business operations, in a blog post in September about the company’s test with August Home in Silicon Valley.
But last week Amazon announced the introduction of Amazon Key, a similar service. Beginning November 8, it’ll be available for in-home deliveries to Prime members by Amazon Logistics, the company’s delivery network—in 37 cities.
Seems Walmart may want to add a crew of New Year’s Ninjas to its crew of Holiday Helpers to give it an extra edge going into 2018.