New Box on the Block

Walmart Express combines drug, grocery, convenience in smaller format

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

[Editor's Note: CSP senior editor Angel Abcede took a stroll through a newly opened Walmart Express store yesterday in Chicago, and provides his first-person account. Watch the video below (no audio).]

CHICAGO -- Having just been to a Walmart Express, I'd call it a drug store with produce and a convenience-style, grab-and-go sandwich cooler up front.

Upon entering, right away a cheerful employee handed me a sheet with a list of prescription drugs I could purchase for $4, as well as magnetic business cards with deal information, store hours (Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) and pharmacist Jill Wozny's business number.

Once past the store associate, I stood before an open cooler display of packaged sandwiches, sushi and other grab-and-go meal options. Just past that, more open coolers in a long initial aisle, stocked with lettuce, tomatoes, bananas, avocados, packaged meats, chicken and sausages.

Along the back wall is another row of coolers, mostly frozen foods, and perpendicularly, row after row of 9-foot-tall shelving units stocked with paper goods, cereals, sodas and other center-store grocery items.

The corners are tight, as are the aisles. The tall shelves often block light, making dim spots. Tags jut out declaring low prices.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s proprietary "Great Values" brand is prevalent on many facings, especially with frozen foods and household goods.

Continuing along the store's back wall, the shelved items go from grocery to drug store, with end caps of oddly merchandised fleece blankets, pillows and other household items.

Departments include school supplies, beauty and seasonal goods.

Other areas of note:

  • Advertising key items out front: fresh produce at low prices, financial services and its pharmacy.
  • No liquor. At least not prominent, although various mixers and liquor-related items occupied a scant, three feet of shelf space.
  • A "healthy" frozen-foods area of nationally branded meals to heat, vegetables and side dishes.
  • Tobacco. Behind the first cashier was a kiosk-sized area for tobacco products with brand-names in cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.
  • DVDs. A large DVD section with popular movie and TV series titles displayed on a propped-up wall of multiple facings, prominent in size and positioned up front.
  • Six checkouts, including at least two self-service. Employees popped out of checkout aisles to assist--even hurry--customers through the payment process.
  • Robust ATM. Looking like a high-tech automated teller machine, the financial services kiosk sitting past the cashiers offered additional services such as check cashing and bill payment.
  • Red Box. A DVD rental station sat inside the store off the exit.

In terms of the competition, this new Walmart Express sits a block south of a Walgreens drug store and a 7-Eleven. It's just a block north of a Jewel Foods store and two or three blocks from a Treasure Island grocer.

Wal-Mart's decision to go small has been a response to economic conditions and the opportunity to grow where its Supercenters are not viable. (Click here for previousCSP Daily News coverage of Walmart Express. And click here to read CSP magazine's recent coverage on Walmart Express.)

The location I walked through was 14,800 square feet with 11,000-13,000 SKUs.

When I wrote about Walmart Express back in July, the sources I spoke to had differing opinions as to whether or not it posed a threat to convenience retailers. To me, despite the grab-and-go sandwiches up front and the multitude of checkout aisles and cashiers, I don't sense that I could run in there for a quick soda, hot dog or coffee.

It's not a convenience store. It feels like something else.

At this point, three of the Wal-Mart's 15,000-square-foot, "small format" stores have opened in Chicago, with at least two more planned. Two other Walmart Express stores opened in Arkansas this summer and another was planned for Ridgefield, N.C.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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