The Year in Mega-Disruption, So Far

By 
Jackson Lewis, Assistant Editor

CHICAGO -- The year 2016 was transformative for Wal-Mart and Amazon. But 2017 is a veritable battle of disruption. On one side, Amazon is attempting to change retail with an increasing focus on brick-and-mortar. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is adding new tech-focused and e-commerce-driven amenities almost monthly to stay competitive in an ever-shifting retail landscape.

CSP set out to examine the twists and turns of the warpath of these retail giants in 2017. Here are the most resounding calls and competitive responses between the combatants as they fight to dominate the changing battlefield of retail ...

January 2017

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart opens two Supercenters in Texas with Scan & Go technology. With Scan & Go, customers can scan items they wish to purchase with their smartphone or an in-store sensor to avoid waiting in a line when they are done shopping. The offering opens less than two months after a YouTube video announces Amazon Go.

February 2017

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart opens a Supercenter near Houston to test tech-focused amenities, including Scan & Go shopping, a deli-ordering kiosk and drive-thru pickup lanes.

March 2017

Amazon

The Wall Street Journal reports that plans to open Amazon Go to the public that month have hit a snag due to technical limitations. But one day later, Amazon reveals details of its AmazonFresh Pickup Center, a drive-up outpost where customers can order groceries for pickup in as little as 15 minutes. The concept is undergoing employee testing. Unlike Wal-Mart’s stores with drive-thru grocery pickup lanes, AmazonFresh Pickup structures are built solely for quick grocery pickup.

May 2017

Amazon

Two AmazonFresh Pickup locations open to the public in Seattle. Any Amazon Prime member can pick up groceries from the outposts free of charge, but those who pay an extra $14.99 a month in addition to the annual $99 Prime fee can pick up their groceries just 15 minutes after placing their order online.

Wal-Mart

Jet.com, Wal-Mart’s e-commerce arm, opens a small pop-up shop in New York City for six weeks to raise awareness of Jet’s grocery delivery service. The offer is similar to Amazon’s grocery delivery offering, AmazonFresh.

June 2017

Amazon

Amazon announces that it is purchasing health-food retailer Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion. Whole Foods retains its CEO and its headquarters in Austin, Texas. Analysts speculate that Whole Foods will use Amazon’s resources to shed its “Whole Paycheck” image, while Amazon will use Whole Foods’ consumer data to widen its base of customers and use its stores as testing grounds for new tech.

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart tests employee delivery at two stores in New Jersey and Arkansas. Employees at these sites can make deliveries to consumers’ homes on their way back from work for extra pay. The move allows Wal-Mart to expand delivery while retaining its focus on existing employees.

Wal-Mart also tests a 20-foot-by-80-foot self-serve grocery pickup center in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Warr Acres, Okla. Customers who spend at least $30 can use the service with no additional pickup fee.

July 2017

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart expands its use of in-store pickup towers. The company aims to install 80 more across U.S. Wal-Mart locations over the next several months. Customers can order items online for pickup at the tower, where they can retrieve their items either with their smartphone or a printed barcode. Unlike Amazon’s lockers, Wal-Mart’s pickup towers have the ability to adjust the size of their compartments, giving the retailer a leg up in the battle for click-and-collect customers.

August 2017

Amazon

Amazon opens five pickup centers, dubbed Amazon Instant Pickup, in college campuses across the United States. Users can choose from a daily-curated list of basic items available for pickup in two minutes or less after they place an order. Users are given a QR code once they place the order, which they scan at the location to open their locker with their order inside, a system similar to Wal-Mart’s pickup towers.

Wal-Mart

Bloomberg reports that Wal-Mart filed a patent for a flying warehouse in February 2017. The patent describes a flying machine similar to a blimp with multiple launch bays from which drones could exit to make deliveries. The design has an undeniable similarity to a patent Amazon was granted in April 2016 for a similar airborne delivery warehouse.

September 2017

Amazon

Kohl’s announces that it will host mini Amazon shops in 10 of its locations in the Los Angeles and Chicago areas as a test. The shops will sell Amazon’s branded electronics, including the voice-activated Echo smart speaker and the Fire tablet.

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart announces that it is expanding its grocery delivery test with Uber to the Orlando and Dallas markets. Users can order online or through their mobile device, at which point Wal-Mart employees pick and scan items that they give to an Uber delivery driver, who takes the items to the user. Analysts see the move as a way to improve the retailer’s ability to compete with Amazon for grocery delivery dollars.

Wal-Mart partners with Google to allow owners of the Google Home smart speaker to purchase items from Wal-Mart. The partnership also allows customers to purchase Wal-Mart goods through the Google Express delivery service. Wal-Mart and Google seem to be teaming up to compete with Amazon’s smart-speaker hardware and delivery capabilities.