Wal-Mart Targets Web Sales With Lockers, Mobile App Technology

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, is trying out new delivery methods and adding to its mobile technology to improve Web-based shopping and step up its challenge to Amazon.com Inc.

Wal-Mart is testing lockers that let customers order items online and pick them up in stores without interacting with a sales representative, the company said yesterday at an event in San Bruno, California. The program is in trials in fewer than 12 stores, the retailer said.

Wal-Mart has started shipping items from some U.S. stores directly to consumers, and plans to double the locations participating in that test to about 50, said Joel Anderson, chief executive officer of Walmart.com in the U.S. The retailer is experimenting with ways to use its more than 4,000 domestic locations nationwide to improve e-commerce sales after Amazon made a push to get closer to customers by adding 20 fulfillment centers across the country last year.

Shoppers “are one click away from someone else,” Anderson said at the event. Stores need to find a way to add value beyond sales associates, because before consumers even walk into stores they have often done more research about specific products than employees have, he said.

Lockers complement the company’s website-to-store program, which lets people order online and pick up items from a sales representative at any Wal-Mart location in the U.S.

Mobile App

To compete with applications for smartphones and tablets from Amazon and EBay Inc., Wal-Mart is also building up its presence in mobile, which accounts for about a third of traffic to the company’s website, according to Gibu Thomas, senior vice president of mobile and digital in the company’s global e-commerce division.

Functions being tested would let customers scan and track what they’re buying as they walk through a store, browse coupons, and transfer the list of items scanned from a mobile phone to a self-checkout machine with just a few clicks -- without removing anything from the physical cart.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company already offers self-checkout in about 1,800 stores and plans to increase that number to 3,000 locations after purchasing about 10,000 machines this year, according to Shannon Letts, vice president for U.S. innovations.

Wal-Mart forecasts $9 billion in e-commerce sales in 2013, the company said. Amazon, the largest online retailer, logged $61.1 billion in revenue last year.

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