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Walmart’s Auto Shopping List: The Next Killer Mobile App?

Written by Evan Schuman
May 29th, 2013

Gibu Thomas, the SVP for mobile/digital at Walmart (NYSE:WMT), recently floated the idea of a mobile shopping app that uses POS and CRM files to prepopulate a shopping list, filling it with things that the customer is likely to run out of very soon. At a glance, this may seem like a throwaway idea his team is toying with. But for quite a few reasons, this seemingly innocuous functionality idea could truly be the killer app that retailers often strive for.

The idea, which Thomas made a passing reference to during a keynote speech at CTIA Wireless, was referenced this way: “The best shopping list is the one you don’t have to create and that’s what we’re working on.” (Technically, the best shopping list is the one that someone else has to shop and pay for, but I digress.) Presumably, this mobile app would be built atop the chain’s experimental Scan & Go mobile app, which prepares in-aisle checkout leveraging existing self-checkout units.

Given that Scan & Go—by its very nature—requires the shopper to register beforehand and to be associated with a verified payment method, it delivers an ideal CRM platform. This is a nice backdoor way to get into CRM for Walmart, which doesn’t have a traditional CRM program and never has had one.

That is a crucial element of Thomas’ self-populating shopping list. It would presumably build on that shopper’s complete shopping history, noting typical durations between purchases of identical items and using that data to project when that shopper will likely be about to run out of that product.

The small magic here is that this is extreme customization, down to the individual shopper, and it’s also likely—if done well, which Walmart has a nasty habit of doing—that it will be quite accurate. Combined, that delivers the big magic: namely, that this app is likely to be impressively sticky. In non-Web English, this is something shoppers are likely to use and to use often.

A good analogy for this is those automated reminders that car companies and gas stations like to send out via e-mail for oil refills. What should be a clever way to get customers back to pay for more service—presented as a courtesy FYI that your oil should need changing right about now—often fails. Personally, my driving patterns are erratic, and I rarely come anywhere close to driving the average number of miles per year. Therefore, those reminders are humorously way off. That means that I ignore them, which is the kiss of death for such functionality.

If Walmart’s shopping lists are accurate, though, shoppers would have an excellent reason to routinely check them (while in-store), even if they think they have everything.


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One Comment | Read Walmart’s Auto Shopping List: The Next Killer Mobile App?

  1. ed Says:

    A mobile shopping list app offering linear inventory replenishment for a household is great. A mobile shopping list app smart enough to revolve around existing items in the household pantry would be killer.

    In the 8 hot dog buns to 10 hot dogs in a package scenario, the shopping list mobile app should be smart enough to recommend a can of baked beans to make frank & beans with the 2 remaining hot dogs instead of inventory replenishment.

    Wal-Mart would love for me to buy a new package of hot dog buns, but as a customer, I want to make the best use of what I have in my household and have diversity in my meal choices.

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