Walmart Won't Stop Testing Convenience (Video, Slideshow & Infographic)

Mass retailer goes live with grocery pickup service at gas station-like facility

By 
Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Walmart Pickup Grocery (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores)

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. began testing Walmart Pickup - Grocery, a new same-day pickup concept, on September 29 at a gas station-like site in its home town of Bentonville, Ark. It is registering northwestern Arkansas customers online to participate in the pilot of the concept.

The mass retailer said it "continues to explore new ways to make shopping faster and more convenient by integrating its digital and physical assets."

Walmart Pickup - Grocery offers Walmart's prices and enables customers to place grocery orders online and schedule a pickup time at no additional charge, it said.

A grand opening ceremony took place the morning of October 6 at the warehouse site located near the intersection of J Street and South Walton Boulevard, reported The City Wire.

Wal-Mart employees have tested the new format in recent weeks, the report said.

A 15,000-square-foot grocery center stocked with 10,000 fresh and dry grocery products including fresh produce, meat and milk supplies the new service. The company's logistics division operates the facility, staffed with pickers like those who work in the distribution centers. There is only one delivery dock at the small facility. The facility will be replenished by the local distribution centers daily as demand dictates, according to the report.

Consumers place their grocery order online and request a pickup time at their convenience. The retailer asks for a two-hour window to fill the order, said the report. The consumer drives his or her vehicle through one of a dozen lanes up to the kiosks to await delivery.

"We know at Wal-Mart our customers' needs are changing," Deisha Barnett, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, told the newspaper. "They want and need more shopping options and we have the means to give them low prices, wide assortments along with value and convenience in a seamless shopping experience."

She said this new convenient grocery format in no way is meant to replace traditional stockup trips at its Walmart supercenters and Neighborhood Market stores.

(Click here to view the full City Wire report.)

President and CEO Bill Simon teased the concept in March at a Raymond James investors' conference.

"Later this year, we will be evolving into building the capabilities and opening three markets where we have a fully tethered distribution system and a fully tethered retail operation," he said. "A small store connected to our … distribution system, the e-commerce system and the supercenter network. So if you are on your way home today from wherever you are and you know you need to stop for gas, you can place your grocery order to be picked up when you get your gas."

Wal-Mart has been experimenting with small-format locations and sites that resemble conveniences stores for quite some time, as well as online deliery.

Although it recently pulled the plug on its 10,000-to-15,000-square-foot Walmart Express small-format stores--existing locations will be rebranded to the company's larger Neighborhood Market grocery store format--Wal-Mart currently operates more than two-dozen gas stations at supercenter locations (not including the nearly 1,100 Murphy USA gas stations in Walmart parking lots in the Southwest, Southeast and Midwest). And in March, it opened a proof-of-concept Walmart to Go gas station that includes a 5,200-square-foot convenience store in Bentonville. The company says it is a one-of-a kind pilot. Further, the company is testing three college-based convenience store-type retail outlets called Walmart on Campus.

Simon has said that its "small-store expansion … including fresh, pharmacy and fuel, will help us usher in the next generation of retail."

Part of CSP's 2014 Convenience Top 101 retailers