How the COVID-19 pandemic is influencing Walmart’s business activities

Date : 02 July 2020

Stewart Samuel

Program Director - Canada

We look at three new initiatives from Walmart, arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and consider what they mean for its longer-term strategy.

1. New cashier-free model

Updating on an initiative which launched last month, Walmart has shared more details on its cashier-free test in Fayetteville, USA. The retailer has adopted a unique layout in the checkout area, removing the traditional lanes to create an open area lined by 34 checkouts. While each station can operate as a self-checkout, the retailer also offers a full-service experience. Cashiers in the store have transitioned to a new ‘host’ role to support customers. The host will direct customers to available checkouts, and if required, provide a full, traditional scanning and bagging service. The design of the area enables greater interaction with customers. With all checkouts always being available, it also becomes significantly easier to manage peaks in traffic flow.

Source: Walmart

2. Drive-in movies

Walmart is repurposing its large car parks through the summer to offer drive-in movies. This comes as traditional movie theatres are starting to re-open with social-distancing measures in place. The retailer is transforming 160 car parks to offer a contact-free drive-in movie experience to watch movies programmed by the Tribeca Drive-in team. Starting in August, Walmart will show 320 movies, running through to October. Customers will also be able to order drive-in essentials for curbside pickup.

Source: Walmart

3. Camp by Walmart

In partnership with CAMP, Walmart has developed a virtual summer camp activity. The initiative sees Drew Barrymore, Neil Patrick Harris, LeBron James, Idina Menzel and Todd Oldham step outside of their day jobs to serve as camp counsellors. Around 200 camp activities will be offered for free, including arts and crafts, music and fitness programmes. Camp by Walmart is accessible through the retailer’s app and is being delivered on the Eko interactive video platform. In 2018, Walmart and Eko technology formed a strategic entertainment joint venture to develop original, interactive content to enable the retailer to connect with customers in new ways.

Source: Walmart

What do these initiatives mean for Walmart?

These are three very different initiatives but are shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The front of store area has been significantly impacted across most food retail businesses as retailers have enforced social distancing requirements. This new approach from Walmart provides the retailer with greater flexibility to meet peaks in demand and to quickly switch to offer a contact-free experience if required. We identified the front-of-store as one of the key areas that could be radically re-shaped going forward and Walmart’s pilot will be of interest to retailers globally.

The use of its car parks for drive-in movies builds on work which was underway last year to consider how the retailer could place its stores in the centre of the communities which it serves. The ‘Town Centre’ initiative was focused on sweating its assets and driving new revenue streams. This initiative enables it to start testing some of its ideas at a time when consumers may be reluctant to use indoor movie theatres. It also aligns with its focus on making every day easier for families.

A similar thought-process applies to its virtual summer camp programme. With most traditional summer camps cancelled this year, this initiative will provide parents and caregivers with new ideas, with many having already faced a significant challenge educating at home over recent months. Along with the drive-in movies, this initiative demonstrates how Walmart continues to extend its reach and role beyond selling goods and services, enhancing its credibility and trust credentials with a wider base of consumers.

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