Walmart’s CRM Gateway: Mobile Checkout?Written by Evan Schuman
Walmart’s two-day trial last week to test in-aisle mobile checkout was about everything other than accelerating the checkout process. The chain saw it as delivering everything from a back door into a CRM system (which Walmart has never had) to making coupons and other incentives several orders of magnitude more effective and even gathering in-store geolocation data for marketing analysis. (“We may have sold 50 TVs this week, but based on the number of people standing by that area for more than six minutes, it looks like we need to tweak pricing more.”)
When Walmart quietly (was it really intended to be quiet? More on that in a moment) ran this test at one store near the Bentonville mothership, many compared it with the chain’s self-checkout efforts. But this setup’s advantages make that particular function of minimal interest. Still, it’s the most palatable explanation to offer shoppers.
The test at that one store did not involve any customers and only allowed employees—and their “friends and family”—to participate. Given that it was an extremely limited test (two days, one store, no customers, iPhone-only), it’s by no means indicative of how the chain would actually use the technology. With that disclaimer out there, this is how the trial worked.
Shoppers scan each item as they work their way through the aisles. In this way, it enables real-time promotions, delivered at a point in the process where they are quite likely to change purchases—either to more profitable products or to those where the chain has a manufacturer incentive.
As StorefrontBacktalk was—shameless plug alert—quoted saying in The Wall Street Journal on August 31, this approach could effortlessly offer a coupon for a rival peanut-butter brand with a 75-cent off coupon. (If that Wall Street Journal link doesn’t work for you, here’s a screen capture of that page.) Done at checkout, it will likely be ignored, forgotten or lost (and perhaps all three). The chance of a large number of shoppers bringing that coupon back the next shopping trip is small. But if that offer is made while the shopper is still in the peanut-butter aisle? Much more compelling.
Back to the process. When the shopper is done and has filled a cart with dozens of items, she pushes the cart to the existing self-checkout lane. Given that the products have already been scanned, all that the shopper does is scan the single 2D barcode from the Walmart mobile app into the self-checkout system. That code includes the scans for all the products in her cart. The shopper then pays for the purchases through the self-checkout system, either swiping payment cards or paying with cash, whichever the machine accepts. The self-checkout POS prints out a regular hard-copy receipt and the order is complete.
It’s unclear how the process would deal with standard self-checkout security issues. Age- or quantity-restricted items (cigarettes, alcohol, some OTC pharmaceuticals, etc.) would presumably generate the same associate interventions as they do at today’s self-checkout systems, handled by the associate overseeing those self-checkout lanes.
Shoplifting issues would be a little trickier. Unlike traditional self-checkout orders, the overseeing associate—and, for that matter, security cameras—would not have the opportunity to watch shoppers scanning items because that scanning happens through the mobile device back in the aisles. So if someone—intentionally or unintentionally—didn’t scan (and, therefore, pay for) all the items, there’s no immediate trigger.
It would likely need to fall back on the random (or perhaps even complete) checking of receipts at the door, comparing the receipt list with the cart contents. Security cameras in the aisles would also likely watch for shoppers using the mobile app and then deliberately not scanning items placed in their carts.
To be clear, this process absolutely would accelerate checkout, given that a 58-item shopping cart would be scanned in literally the time it takes to scan a single barcode. That checkout acceleration, though, is simply not one of the most attractive aspects of this mobile program. It’s clearly attractive, but the other benefits have much greater strategic benefit.