Quick background: If there's one big trend among retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target recently, it's about how they're all working to blur the line between online sales and brick-and-mortar retail.
Amazon is acquiring and opening retail stores. Walmart and Target are pouring resources into their digital assets.
The new thing Walmart is trying falls into that category: this month, it revealed the results of its new curbside grocery pickup, which it refers to as "click and collect."
Walmart has rolled "click and collect" out at about 2,700 Walmart stores in the U.S., and plans to expand to 3,000 (out of about 4,700) by the end of the year.
At a retail conference earlier this month, Steve Bratspies, Walmart's chief merchandising officer discussed what happened after "click and collect" made its debut, and one key detail caught my attention.
Here's part of what Bratspies had to say:
Online grocery pickup, or click-and-collect as some people refer to it, has been a really big success. And it's one of the reasons we're rolling it out as fast as we possibly can. So, as I said, we'll hit 3,100 stores by the end of this year and it continues to gain momentum.
It's proving to be highly incremental to our business and bringing in new customers with strong repeat. The average basket size is about 2X what a standard grocery basket is, so obviously we're excited about that.
Key words: "2X what a standard grocery basket is."
That's huge. In other words, Walmart doubled its sales per customer by introducing a feature that could theoretically blow up its traditional business model.
Don't require Walmart customers to walk into a Walmart. Instead, let them choose what they want online, pull up to the curb, and have someone bring it out to them.
And after giving them that choice, Walmart shoppers wound up buying twice as much.
Mind blown -- well, a little bit, anyway. I have a lot of follow-up questions. (I've asked Walmart to comment, but haven't heard back.) I want to know things like:
- Was Walmart surprised to see the average order increase this much?
- Do they find that customers shop just as often? (This would a bit be less interesting if customers shopped half as often but bought twice as much each time.)
- Does Walmart save as much money as you might expect by moving customers to this "click-and-collect" model?
Now, curbside pickup isn't an exclusive idea of course. I wrote a bit about Target's offering, called Drive Up, as part of a recent article about how it fought its way out from under Amazon's shadow.
Amazon's Whole Foods offers something similar, and we could easily fill up the rest of this article with examples of food and grocery delivery models, both at the big retailers and some very well-funded startups.
In fact, I remember my grandmother would call grocery shopping, "getting my order," because back in the 1950s she would drop off a paper "order" at the local market, and return to find everything packaged and ready for pickup.
Of course no article about WalMart and groceries today is complete without mentioning Walmart's upcoming in-home delivery idea, in which a WalMart delivery person won't just deliver groceries to your home, but will actually put them away in your refrigerator.
"For some people, it's a real stretch to say, 'I'm going to let somebody inside my house to go do this,'" Bratspies said, "but we've been testing it for a while."
He added that Walmart will be testing that idea three U.S. markets before the end of the year.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. But it's reassuring in a way to see a company like Walmart trying innovative things like this.
And that's the moral of the story for anyone running a business: Experiment. Make small change. See what happens.
If you're doing things right, customers will let you know very quickly how they feel about it.