Retailers have had a traditional way for people to check out for years. They come to the front of the store. A human or robotic cashier rings up their items. The customer pays by cash, credit card or newer forms of electronic payment like Apple Pay. Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has changed that. It has started to allow people to check out anywhere in its stores.
The first phase of what Walmart calls “Check Out With Me” covered the garden and lawn centers at 350 locations. People who bought items did not even have to enter most parts of the store. An employee with a cellular device scanned items and took payments. Customers who wanted a receipt got one via a Bluetooth-enabled portable printer.
Walmart has sharply expanded the program for the holidays. Starting November 1, Walmart shoppers will be able to use Check Out With Me in most locations. Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer at Walmart U.S., said that the program was a part of the company’s “new convenient ways to buy.”
Check Out With Me will eliminate one of the most frustrating parts of holiday shopping. It should cut down long lines created by the huge number of people who shop from Thanksgiving until Christmas. It is also a way for Walmart to differentiate itself from competitors. This includes Amazon, which, as a virtual shopping business, does not allow people to see the merchandise they buy. Amazon’s check out is a page with the customer’s “shopping cart” and a page to enter payment information.
Check Out With Me is part of a suite of new services Walmart will offer this holiday as a means to take market share from other brick-and-mortar retailers as well as e-commerce companies. They include maps of Walmart stores. Some SuperCenters cover over 200,000 square feet, which can make finding items a challenge. People can search for items by location using the map. This service also will roll out at most Walmart stores starting November 1.
Walmart management says the two other ways it will improve the holiday shopping experience are by upgrades to Walmart.com and easier return policies for items sold on Walmart’s Marketplace, which is where vendors other than Walmart can offer their inventory online.
Walmart is betting that convenience, led by Check Out With Me, will offer customers something that will make their year-end shopping easier and is not available elsewhere. In a crowded retail market, any advantage may be critical to the holiday sales that can make or break a retailer for the year.