LAS VEGAS — Walmart continues to refine its online grocery service to reduce friction and enhance personalization for pickup and delivery customers, and senior vice president of digital operations Tom Ward described some of the improvements Sept. 15 at industry conference Groceryshop.

For consumers seeking convenience, minutes matter, and Walmart has been working on ways to pickup and delivery faster and easier for shoppers.

 

‘Less busy’

One example is Walmart’s plan to show shoppers which grocery pickup windows will have the shortest wait times.

By calling out certain times as “less busy,” the retailer gives shoppers one more opportunity to make their experience more seamless.

“Because we’re doing thousands and thousands of these transactions every single week ...  we understand on a store-by-store basis, by hour, by day, and we can show that information to our customers,” Ward said in a presentation. “We use it as a business to improve the service because if you build this big basket, you want to pull into a spot, you want to get your groceries, and you want to get back out again, and so anything we can do using data to help make that better for customers, we’re going to show customers in the application.”

Walmart has already gotten good engagement on another feature that facilitates faster pickup.

When shoppers use the “check in” function to let the retailer know they are on their way, Walmart can track their vehicle and have their order ready exactly when they arrive, getting customers back on the road as soon as possible but also preserving food quality by keeping products in the proper temperature zones until the last possible moment.

Another way the company plans to shorten the pickup wait time is by having shoppers use the app to indicate which numbered space they are in and what color their car is.

 

‘Smart substitution’

As Walmart gathers more data from its e-commerce business and stores, it gains an understanding of which products shoppers accept in the event of out-of-stocks.

Harnessing that information lets Walmart do a better job delivering a satisfactory item to the shopper and eliminates a decision for the personal shopper picking the order.

“It’s dynamic by individual,” Ward said. “So if we know that Customer X, whenever this product’s out of stock, they always accept that product, and it might be not necessarily a bigger pack size, it might be two of the same one, it might be a slightly different brand for the same size, and it’s different, because I might prefer that and you might not, but once we know that about you, we’re going to only ever make that decision — and a picker won’t even realize, they’ll just keep picking and keep cranking through these volumes.”

 

Delivery precision

At some point, Ward wants the experience of waiting for a grocery delivery order to be similar to waiting for an Uber or Lyft — a situation in which, because of location tracking, the customer knows exactly when to expect arrival.

“You’ve got a one-hour delivery window, that’s pretty convenient, but if you’re a time-starved, busy family with kids, you’ve got a whole lot of stuff going on in that 60 minutes, right? You’ve got kids in the bath, you’ve got people that you’re trying to feed ... We want you to know exactly when that vehicle is going to pull up outside your house,” Ward said.

 

Forget something?

One more improvement Ward mentioned was adding an opportunity for shoppers to add something to an order even after finalizing it. Within 60 minutes of placing the order, a customer can browse options again and add anything that was forgotten.

Ward said Walmart has seen great engagement with that feature.

 

‘Secret sauce’

Ward noted that 45,000 personal shoppers are key to the company’s online grocery services; he calls them the “secret sauce” that has enabled Walmart to scale its pickup and delivery so quickly. Those employees get three weeks of training on how to select the best items, he said.

Ward also described fresh food as a significant component of that business.

“Our customers trust us to pick their fresh items,” Ward said. “Ninety percent of our baskets contain fresh items.”

 

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