Case Study: Walmart Expands Mobile Efforts With Scan & Go App

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WMMerchant: Walmart
Size: 10,700 retail units
Market: 27 countries
Platform: Scan & Go iPhone app
Bottom Line: Self-checkout mobile apps help close the purchase funnel.

Retailers of all sizes are looking for ways to combat “showrooming” — the increasingly common practice of trying out products in-store and immediately comparing prices with online retailers from a mobile device — and Walmart is no exception. The world’s largest retailer has found a way to redirect its customers’ attention away from its competitors’ websites and shorten the purchase funnel, by introducing a self-checkout iPhone app.

“More than 50% of our customers own smartphones and are currently using them actively in our stores,” explained Walmart spokesperson Ashley Hardie. “We know they are using them to search for coupons, compare prices, and navigate aisles. We really want to meet and understand their needs, so we’re experimenting with innovative technologies.”

The company’s Scan & Go iPhone app, which was introduced late last year, can be used to scan the bar codes on items in-store. Customers scan the products they’re planning to buy and add them to their shopping carts just as they typically would. When it’s time to check out, the Scan & Go app displays a QR code that the customer scans on a self-checkout screen to wirelessly transfer the list of scanned items into the register at the point-of-sale. “Then you complete the payment just as you would with any other Walmart transaction, using cash, credit, or debit card,” she said.

Since Scan & Go is still technically a pilot program, it isn’t available nationwide just yet. Walmart started with an initial test in 70 stores throughout Northwest Arkansas and Atlanta, and is now in the process of expanding the program to more than 200 stores in 14 markets. “We have a number of factors that go into determining where we are going to test the locations,” said Hardie. “We test close to the home office here in Northwest Arkansas so we can watch it evolve, and then we also go out and test it in other markets so we can gauge our customers’ feedback in those locations.”

In preparing for the rollout, Walmart is working with “all the major carriers” to make sure it has strong cellular connectivity in all the stores where the app is being tested.

Customer feedback will be the main driver in deciding whether Walmart will continue moving forward with the app, and Hardie explained that the company is hoping current Scan & Go users will provide them with ideas for what features should be added or removed. “We saw some users were confused about the difference between the shopping list and the Scan & Go basket. So we’ve added a mode where users can scan items directly from their shopping list into their basket. Scanned items will automatically be checked off.”

One feature that Walmart doesn’t have any plans to add to its Scan & Go app is a mobile payments option. “This is really about offering choice for our customers,” said Hardie. “We have multiple checkout options, and we think that gives us a unique advantage …. We know a lot of folks still like the traditional checkout experience, so we’ll continue to offer that.”

The Takeaway
Walmart isn’t trying to dissuade customers from using their smartphones while they shop. (In fact, the retailer is beefing up the carrier signals inside its stores to make it easier for customers to get online.) Instead, the company is combating the threat of showrooming by encouraging customers to fill their screens with its own mobile application.

Shoppers are less likely to abandon an item once its been placed in a cart, whether that cart is virtual or real. By making it easy for customers to quickly scan items and place them in their “carts” via a mobile app, Walmart is working to decrease drop off rates and close the conversion funnel. Because the Scan & Go program is still new, Walmart says it’s too soon to tell how the application is changing consumer shopping behaviors. However, the retailer’s push to continue rolling out the app at 200 new stores is a signal that it’s heading in a positive direction.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.