As 2024 comes to a start, the winds of change are blowing through Walmart, and they are poised to shape the retail giant's landscape in ways that blend innovation, customer-centricity, and a commitment to employee welfare. Since its opening in 1962, Walmart has constantly evolved to meet the needs and expectations of its customer base. It has done so in such a way that, per Statista, in 2023 alone, Walmart witnessed a staggering 240 million customer visits per week across its stores worldwide.
Throughout its journey, Walmart has adapted to the evolving retail environment by finding ways to improve the shopping experience for people looking for groceries, household items, clothing, and more. The upcoming changes in 2024 include shorter lines by the exit, drone deliveries, and a partnership within online games. For instance, Walmart's strategic changes for the year strongly rely on cutting-edge technological advancements for two out of three of the company's divisions: Sam's Club (its members-only warehouse retailer) and Walmart U.S. (the one that generates the majority of the company's sales), via Statista. The retailer is also making investments in fostering a positive culture for its workforce, emphasizing the well-being and development of its associates. Keep reading to learn about the changes on the horizon for this year, whether you are an employee or a shopper at Walmart.
Get Ready To See More In-Store Ads
In a strategic move to take advantage of its extensive reach, Walmart is shifting its efforts toward in-store advertising, a move that aligns with a trend seen in other major retailers like Kroger and Target, indicating a generalized industry shift towards leveraging in-store spaces for advertising initiatives. According to CNBC, Walmart has positioned itself as an omnipresent retail giant, with an expansive network of nearly 4,700 stores across the U.S. and approximately 90% of Americans residing within a 10-mile radius of a Walmart store. Thus, the logic behind the move is that the retailer can easily reach Super Bowl-sized audiences each week, as explained by Ryan Mayward, the Senior Vice President of Walmart's advertising business. Plus, it also capitalizes on the fact that it is way more likely for customers to buy a product seen in an ad when it is sitting a couple of aisles away.
Per the site, the company's ambitious plan involves increasing the presence of third-party ads by displaying them on the thousands of digital screens already present within its locations. Besides the visual ads, other marketing techniques include audio marketing strategies available through 30-second radio spots. Still, there is always the risk that putting ads in the store could bother some customers, making them feel interrupted or annoyed. So we will all have to wait to see if Walmart manages to pull off this strategy or if exploiting this revenue route backfires.
You Can Now Purchase Physical Products While Playing On Unity's Virtual Games And Apps
Walmart and Unity have formed a partnership that will allow you to purchase Walmart's physical products while gaming. This alliance imagines that Walmart will increase its sales through games like Avakin Life, and games and experiences developed using Unity will get to earn money through affiliate commissions. Walmart doesn't have the same e-commerce traction as Amazon, so this looks like a move to keep one of its biggest competitors in check.
Last year, Walmart began testing and exploring this immersive commerce route, and a couple of immersive experiences developed with Unity played a pivotal role in the retailer's decision to merge customers' physical and virtual realities. In a game called House Flip, for example, players have a chance to buy the actual versions of the items they see and use in the game, tapping into Walmart's home and furniture departments. Another looks toward the store's clothing, shoes, and accessories departments, allowing players to buy virtual versions of the latest in-store apparel. There are plenty of people using Unity, but only time will tell whether the numbers show that users are interested in participating in interactive commerce. If they do, it could redefine how users interact with and find value in their digital experiences.
You Can Expect To Find More Parcel Stations
Walmart seems to be in an era where improving its delivery system is a priority, and who can blame it? We live in a world where we want to get our online purchases ASAP. Well, in an effort to please its customers, Walmart is now introducing a network of parcel stations within its stores. The new stations are intended to change the retailer's delivery system for online orders, making delivering products to customers' homes faster and less expensive.
According to the company, besides reducing the time of package delivery, this idea came as a no-brainer after seeing how it streamlined the prepping process for online orders, making it easier for workers to dispatch them. Similarly, after testing it in over 40 parcel stations within its stores by the end of 2023, it became clear that it helped reduce delivery costs. Thus the retail giant seems to be ready to expand this innovative change to additional locations throughout 2024.
Buy Now, Pay Later Is Now Possible At Self-Checkout Lanes
Aiming to provide even more flexible payment options, Affirm has extended its partnership with Walmart, introducing the convenience of "Buy Now, Pay Later" (BNPL) at self-checkout lanes in over 4,500 Walmart stores nationwide, according to BusinessWire. In 2023, this service had been only available for online and in-store purchases in a lane staffed by a cashier. As an eligible Walmart shopper, this expansion enables you to take advantage of Affirm's services to the next level of convenience while potentially benefiting from special financing options with as low as 0% Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on select products (meaning that you may be able to make monthly payments with no interest).
Eligible BNPL purchases will still span over Walmart's various and already approved categories, including entertainment, home goods, apparel, jewelry, automotive needs, sporting goods, lawn and garden items, toys, baby durable goods, hearing aids, durable medical devices, and items from the vision center. Still, keep in mind that while the convenience of BNPL services is undoubtedly valuable by acting as a financial lifeline during tight financial moments (think the holiday season), you should always have a well-thought-out plan in place to pay off the total amount as quickly as possible to avoid unwelcome surprises associated with accumulating debt and overspending.
Drone Delivery Is Now An Option In The Dallas-Fort Worth Area
If getting your purchases delivered in under three hours with Walmart's express delivery wasn't fast enough for you (no one is judging; sometimes we just need them now), then this particular change will be a game-changer for you ... so long as you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area. As Prathibha Rajashekhar, Senior Vice President of Innovation & Automation at Walmart U.S. explained in a press release, customers in DFW will now have access to Walmart's drone delivery system, a method that Walmart had already been offering and refining in six states (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia), and had deemed it safe, reliable, and successful.
With this futuristic method, items can be delivered in an astonishingly quick 10 to 30 minutes, a benefit that, per the company, up to 1.8 million households in over 30 towns and municipalities across the DFW's metropolitan area will get to enjoy this year. So whether you're at home or the office, if you forgot to get an item from your shopping list, or are suddenly out of toilet paper, coffee, or staples, Walmart's drones have your back.
Managers' Base Pay And Annual Bonus Program Will Be Updated
To attract and retain management-level employees, Walmart is making significant updates to its base pay and adjusting the annual bonus program. According to Walmart Corporate, the changes start with the manager's base pay, which is set to increase by almost 10% of the average salary of store managers, placing it at $128,000 annually. The President and CEO, John Furner, later announced an additional annual stock grant of up to $20,000.
In addition, Walmart is redesigning its store manager bonus program, introducing a more dynamic approach that takes into account each store's profits when determining annual bonuses. The revamped structure allows managers to potentially earn bonuses of up to 200% of their base salary if all targets are met. With this new structure, Walmart seems to be aiming to motivate its managers to take an active leadership role, since their bonuses are based on how well their stores are doing financially.
Technologies Like AI, GenAI, And AR Will Enhance The Shopping Experience
In yet another tech-inspired move, Walmart Corporate shares that it is harnessing the power of cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI), and Augmented Reality (AR) to revolutionize both the retail and shopping experiences. For example, Walmart has just introduced GenAI Search for iOs, a tool designed to expedite the search process for customers that provides a curated list of the best-matched items based on their preferences. (You can imagine your smart fridge sending an order to Walmart to replenish the produce drawer.)
In addition, Walmart is adding to its list of AR features with a new virtual platform that allows you to shop apparel items with multiple users, but from the comfort of your home, called Shop With Friends. Nevertheless, Walmart's focus on technological innovation extends beyond its customers to its vast workforce of 2.1 million associates worldwide with the introduction of a GenAI tool called My Assistant, which is meant to offer one program for booking conference rooms, managing benefits, and attending training programs.
It Is Working Faster To Reach Its Goal Of Using More Renewable Energy
In a push towards environmental sustainability, Walmart is ramping up its initiatives to reduce its ecological footprint and contribute to a cleaner planet by accelerating its efforts to use more renewable energy, namely focusing its awareness toward sustainable practices in the business and transportation sectors. For example, the company shared in a press release that it is investing in off-site clean energy projects. This aligns with the company's strategy to fulfill the vision of obtaining 100% of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power (via Origis Energy). Going a step further, the company claims to be committed to making clean energy accessible and affordable for its customer base by harnessing the power of solar energy.
Moreover, given the increasing importance and demand for electric vehicles in the quest for greener transportation, Walmart is also taking steps to support the widespread adoption of electric cars. Thus, the company is currently busy setting up a network of charging stations, which are meant to be fast, convenient, and not too expensive for electric vehicle owners to use. With this initiative, Walmart not only facilitates the use of electric cars in the areas surrounding its numerous store locations, but also encourages a shift toward cleaner transportation methods.
Free Samples Will Be Available In More Stores
In a move set to delight shoppers and suppliers alike, Walmart is planning to expand its offering of free samples across the nation in 2024, available at select Walmart stores during the weekend. However, these free samples are different from the ones you already know and love. Picture this: you're strolling through the dairy aisle and stumble upon a demo station offering free Greek yogurt samples, but aside from trying out the yogurt, you find that by scanning a QR code, you gain access to numerous recipes with Greek yogurt you hadn't thought about, ranging from dips to sauces, dressings, and soups. That is the innovative aspect of this particular Walmart change. And, of course, the company hopes you'll buy the Greek yogurt.
Plus, according to Walmart Connect, suppliers also win with this strategy, as they get to boost new and existing products, either through the samples themselves or through the QR-led suggestions. Walmart initially tested these demo stations in the DFW area, and the positive response prompted the retail giant to roll out the offering to 1,000 stores nationwide, though details haven't been disclosed about which cities will be next.
It Invested In A New Health-Oriented Campus To Provide Health And Wellness Offerings To Associates And Their Families
In a stride towards prioritizing the well-being of its workforce and their families, Walmart has built and opened a state-of-the-art gym named the Walton Family Whole Health & Fitness, designed to serve over 31,000 employees at its New Home Office campus.
This new campus stands out because it goes beyond the traditional fitness amenities most companies provide and instead offers a plethora of features aimed at fostering a comprehensive approach to health, all selected by heavily considering its associates' feedback and requests. For example, amenities include healthy dining options, fitness classes, recovery services, a nutrition kitchen, education and connection spaces, and meditation gardens. Beyond the physical campus, Walmart also provides an additional number of health-related offerings, ranging from virtual healthcare benefits to doula services, family-building benefits, and mental health resources. Per Walmart, the creation of this campus was driven by the company's commitment to improving the lives of its associates, which was evidenced by the construction of a second facility in Arkansas: the Childcare Center, which is also set to open its doors this year. Investing in employees' health and wellness is common within the industry (seeing that retailers like Amazon and Target also offer similar benefits to their employees). Taking this step into the realm of holistic wellness is one way the company aims to show it cares about its workers.
You Can Expect More Store Closures
As Walmart navigates the retail landscape in 2024, the retail giant is set to continue the trend of closing some of its stores, building upon the closure of 24 stores last year. While last year's closures were more widespread, affecting multiple states, the retail giant is adopting a more targeted approach in certain regions this time. For now, Walmart has announced plans to close only two locations in California: Walmart Neighborhood Market on Imperial Avenue, San Diego, and Walmart at Fletcher Parkway, El Cajon.
As a Walmart spokesperson told TheStreet, the decision to close these stores did not come from the stores' underperformance. Instead, these closures are attributed to real estate issues, namely the inability to come to an agreement to extend the leasing contracts. Luckily, despite these closures often signifying a high lay-off rate, these stores' employees will get transferred to other stores, reducing the impact of the closures within the community. So it seems like the biggest inconvenience might be the fact that some customers may have to travel longer distances to reach their next available Walmart.
You Won't Have To Wait In Line To Get Your Receipt Checked At Sam's Club
If you're a Sam's Club member, then you have probably experienced the long lines at the door while waiting for someone to check your receipt. However, to keep making the most out of available technologies, Sam's Club, a subsidiary of Walmart, is leveraging cutting-edge AI and computer vision technology to revolutionize the process of exiting the club.
In a futuristic approach that seems like something out of a sci-fi movie, shoppers will now simply walk out of the store while technology takes care of verifying their purchases, meaning that you won't have to endure a second line after finally getting to pay for your stuff. Per the Walmart Corporation, this technology is currently being tested in 10 locations. Yet the goal is to cover nearly 600 clubs by the end of the year. Time will tell whether this change proves to be convenient or annoying.
Read the original article on Mashed.