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What Wal-Mart Didn’t Say About Its POS Move

Written by Frank Hayes
November 16th, 2011

Wal-Mart’s newest mobile acquisition may be a lot more than the world’s largest retailer is admitting. On November 10, the chain announced that it acquired Grabble, a tiny Australian mobile POS startup that can deliver receipts to customers’ phones. Wal-Mart also did a good job of scrubbing the Internet of information about what Grabble actually makes: hardware that attaches to POS systems to capture purchases and other customer data in real time, so that information can be used without having to change existing back-end POS software. Mobile receipts are just one obvious application.

It never really made much sense that Wal-Mart would go all the way to Australia for a mobile-receipts startup—that’s hardly a new idea. But a box that plugs into a POS, so it’s easy to experiment on a store-by-store basis with everything from mobile receipts and coupons to plug-and-play CRM, inventory and analytics systems, sounds like it’s worth the trip. And that could explain why Wal-Mart worked so hard to make most details about Grabble disappear.

Wal-Mart didn’t officially announce that it acquired the startup, which was reportedly conceived last year in a garage in Wollengong, Australia, and launched in January. The chain’s E-Commerce R&D group, Walmart Labs, removed videos demonstrating the technology from YouTube and asked the founders (who are moving to California) not to talk. When news of the Grabble acquisition broke last week, all anyone could say was that the company was developing “point-of-sale systems for mobile phones” that delivered mobile receipts.

Compare that with a pre-acquisition description that Wal-Mart’s Internet-scrubbers missed from a LinkedIn company profile: “At the core of Grabble is a hardware device (the ‘Grabble box’) that can be connected to any point-of-sale system without custom integration. This device captures the items that are purchased and ties them to the customer at the checkout. We use this incredibly valuable data to provide stores with turnkey analytics and loyalty programs for their customers, as well as offering highly targeted deals and promotions to consumers.”

No wonder Wal-Mart wanted people talking about mobile receipts. If the “Grabble box” works as described, it could radically simplify POS experiments for Wal-Mart. Instead of modifying back-end transaction software to add new POS features, the box could pipe transaction data off to a different system. That way the retailer could test mobile receipts and coupons in a single store, or a single checkout lane in each of several stores, or only during certain hours of the day.

And all the new transaction magic would be going on in parallel with the existing POS software.


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One Comment | Read What Wal-Mart Didn’t Say About Its POS Move

  1. Rich Downing Says:

    Great find, Frank. This is indeed a move with potentially huge implications for Wal-Mart.

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