Wal-Mart Tinkers With Express Strategy

Closing one small-format store after supercenter opens nearby; not giving up on format

CHICAGO -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is closing the Walmart Express small-format store in the West Chatham neighborhood in Chicago on July 27, almost a year to the day that it opened, reported The Chicago Tribune, citing an announcement Friday by the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant.

The shuttering is not a negative reflection on Walmart's Express store format, which is still in the pilot phase, spokesperson Steven Restivo told the newspaper. Wal-Mart is trying out the Express format with 11 stores (including West Chatham) operating in three Chicago neighborhoods, northwest Arkansas and North Carolina.

(See Related Content below for previous CSP Daily News coverage of the Walmart Express format.)

In May, Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., said at the Morgan Stanley Retail & Restaurants Conference in Boston that Walmart Express stores are turning profitable sooner than expected, and because of that performance, many more of the convenience-store-like units are in the works.

The 10,000-square-foot West Chatham store was losing customers to the larger Walmart Supercenter that opened in January only about 100 yards away, said the report.

The store employed 24 associates who have been offered jobs in the company, with most "walking across the parking lot" to work at the Supercenter, Restivo said.

Walmart's vision was to have the two stores complement each other, he said, but increasingly customers were shopping at the Supercenter. "Customers appreciate having the one-stop-shop environment at the SuperCenter," he said. "Over time, we found that their unusually close proximity resulted in customers making a clear choice."

He added, "We expect to test, learn and refine these stores over time."

Customer traffic at the Wrigleyville and River North Walmart Express stores has grown every month and "customer experience scores are high," said Restivo.

Walmart now operates six stores in Chicago.