Heading into the holiday shopping season, Walmart Inc. unveiled several initiatives to create better holiday shopping experiences and boost sales. The new initiatives include a modernized supply chain that makes use of data and automation, a multi-day Black Friday promotion, and revamped stores that deliver a more modern shopping experience.
Officially unveiled at its investor meeting in February, Walmart’s re-engineered supply chain makes greater use of technology to improve in-stock rates, inventory accuracy, and flow across stores, pickup services, and delivery.
At the heart of the revamping, which was a multi-year project, is an artificial intelligence-based inventory management system that positions products according to customer demand. For example, the system can recognize a top-selling toy in a particular region, and automatically send more of those items to those stores. Alternatively, if a toy is selling better in the Midwest compared to the East Coast, the inventory management system can reposition inventory to that area of the country.
“This will be the first holiday shopping season where customers will begin feeling the benefits of our next generation supply chain,” the retailer said in an Oct. 31 blog post. “We’re confident [the AI-based inventory management system] has set us up for success heading into the season and will continue to do so as holiday shopping kicks into high gear.”
Walmart leverages faster fulfillment for the holidays
Improved technology within its supply chain enables Walmart to increase its delivery options and expand its next-day and same-day shipping capabilities. Walmart can now provide same-day delivery to more than 80% of consumers in the United States and reach 90% of the country’s population with next- and two-day shipping.
To make same-day delivery available to such a high percentage of consumers, Walmart uses its 4,700 stores as fulfillment hubs. Walmart stores are located within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population.
Another improvement to its delivery services is on-demand delivery slots for same-day delivery. Online shoppers can choose a time that fits their schedule or select Express Delivery to receive items in 30 minutes. Shoppers can also select the Late Night Delivery services option, which is available at 4,000 stores, to receive orders up to 10:30 p.m.
70 retailers in the Top 1000 offer same-day delivery, and 353 offer next-day delivery. The Top 1000 is Digital Commerce 360’s ranking of the largest online retailers in North America.
“I think both Target and Walmart have used their existing store footprints to help their fulfillment goals, but Amazon’s owned fulfillment network, which puts a lot of its marketplace products closer to consumers, gives it a huge advantage still,” says James Risley, research data manager and senior analyst at Digital Commerce 360. Amazon ranks No. 1 in the Top 1000, and Walmart ranks No. 2.
Automated distribution centers
In addition, Walmart continues to install what it calls “next generation” technology in its distribution centers that reduces the number of steps in its fulfillment process. Walmart expects more than 15% of its stores will receive merchandise from automated distribution centers that can sort items by department and load them onto a pallet this holiday season. Once the merchandise arrives at the store, Walmart employees move the pallet to the appropriate department, as opposed to manually sorting items.
Shipping merchandise from its automated distribution centers is expected to accelerate how fast products can be delivered to stores and unloaded onto shelves, the retail says in its blog post. Walmart expects to have seven high-tech distribution centers operating by Thanksgiving. The first high-tech distribution center opened in 2022 in Joliet, Illinois.
“We’ve been working on re-engineering our supply chain for a number of years,” says a Walmart spokesperson. “Customer needs and expectations continue to evolve, and as they do, we’re committed to enhancing how we operate to best meet their needs now and in the future.”
Black Friday starts earlier
In response to consumers’ desire to have special holiday shopping events spread out during the holiday shopping season, Walmart is having two Black Friday events during November. The first event began Nov. 8 online and continues Friday, Nov. 10, in stores. The second event begins Nov. 22 online and continues in stores on the day after Thanksgiving — the traditional Black Friday — on Friday, Nov. 24.
The retailer will wrap up its November sales events with a Cyber Monday sale, which takes place Nov. 27. Walmart+ members will be able to access the Black Friday and Cyber Monday events three hours earlier than the scheduled start times. Walmart+ is a membership rewards program launched in 2020 and costs $98 per year.
“Customers have loved our reinvented Black Friday experience since we introduced it a few years ago,” says the Walmart spokesperson. “In fact, 76% of Walmart customers told us they prefer special deals to be spread out over the holiday shopping season as opposed to one moment.”
Pre-Black Friday holiday sales can pull forward some typical holiday spendings, says Neil Saunders, managing director at retail analysis firm Global Data. Some retailers started holiday sales even earlier this year, beginning with Amazon’s Big Deal Days in October. Walmart held a competing Holiday Kickoff sale at the same time.
Walmart updated its website for the holidays
In addition to its Black Friday and Cyber Monday events, Walmart is introducing several enhancements to make it easier for shoppers to find and save their favorite deals this holiday season, as well as shop and receive their purchases.
Walmart+ members and customers shopping on Walmart.com or the Walmart app will be able to save their favorite deals by clicking on the heart button, which automatically creates a personalized list called “My Saved Deals.” The hearting functionality allows shoppers to track and be notified of deals on those items as they become available. Shoppers can add the entire Saved Deals list to their cart in one click. My Saved Deals lists can also be shared to help take the guessing out of gifting, the retailer says.
“Walmart introduced Hearting so members and customers shopping on Walmart.com or the Walmart app can save their favorite deals,” says the Walmart spokesperson. “This new feature takes the guesswork out of holiday gifting by allowing customers to share their My Saved Deals lists with friends and family for easy wish list inspiration, while helping them track and shop their favorite deals in real time.”
Wish lists and registries help consumers prepare
Another enhancement to its online shopping experience is a holiday wish list and toy registry. The retailer’s holiday wish list page, which is scheduled to launch this month, enables shoppers to create a gift registry that can be saved and shared with others. Shoppers can also create a toy wish list directly from the Top Toy List on Walmart.com.
“With Walmart’s new Holiday Wish List page, customers can create their very own registry to effortlessly save all their holiday needs (and wants!) in one place and/or share with friends and family,” says the Walmart spokesperson. “From gift ideas to holiday décor, and even a new Toy Registry, customers can discover top gifts, like products from Walmart’s Top Toys List, making it even easier for family and friends to gift with confidence and check everything off their list this season.”
“Every change is thoughtful. They all ladder up to a greater goal: to meet our customers wherever they are, leveraging our stores to welcome people to a more modern, highly connected Walmart,” Walmart says in the Oct. 30 blog post. “Whether you’re walking in just to wander, grabbing a quick snack and dashing or using our Pickup & Delivery service, every one of our remodeled stores is ready to improve that experience.”
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