Walmart this week began testing a fully self-paced retail location in Plano, Texas, as it tries to keep pace with Amazon’s cashless store ambitions amid an industry-wide labor shortage.
The Texas location isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the entirely self-checkout space — the company opened its first cashless super store in its home state of Arkansas — but the Plano market is three times larger than the Fayetteville, Arkansas market, making this an important test market for the initiative.
Walmart’s move follows Amazon’s introduction last month of its first full-size Amazon Fresh grocery store with the company’s “Just Walk Out” cashless payment technology after using the technology at smaller locations in the UK and US. The Amazon Fresh store is located in Bellevue, Washington. , outside the company’s home city of Seattle.
Amazon expanded its Just Walk Out technology to other retailers, including airport retailer Hudson, and offered it to Walmart and Target at the start of the pandemic, though no interest was shown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walmart has gone so far as to resist using Amazon’s cloud computing services in order to keep the competitor at bay.
Alexa, get a promotion
Ahead of new CEO Andy Gacy’s earnings report next week, Amazon is rolling out new Alexa features and tools for third-party voice app developers, its biggest release of new tools yet as it tries to drive more growth and engagement with the voice assistant.
Among the new features is “Alexa Shopping Actions,” which allows app developers and merchants to sell products from Amazon according to their skills. Amazon also offers the Amazon Associates Affiliate Marketing Program to Alexa, which will allow app developers to earn commission on eligible product referrals; and the introduction of “paid skills” in which consumers pay a one-time fee to access content in a skill.
Jeff Blankenburg, Amazon’s technology evangelist for Alexa, said in a blog post that the company’s vision for Alexa is to be “proactive, personalized, and predictable, everywhere customers want you to be.”
“It is our long-term vision, which means there is a lot of work to be done to make this a reality,” Blankenberg wrote.
Part of that work involves getting consumers to actually use Alexa to shop. According to PYMNTS research, nearly a third of consumers own a voice assistant, but only about 7 percent have used voice assistants to make purchases while shopping for groceries and retail products. However, this represents a 45 percent increase in consumers buying things with voice assistants since 2018.
More wine selection
Walmart is adding to its Winemakers Selection brand with its new Reserve series, which showcases five different premium wines from some of the world’s most popular growing regions. Among the $10 bottle selections are California Cabernet Sauvignon, French Rosé, and Italian Pinot Grigio.
The Winemakers Selection Reserve chain is available at brick-and-mortar Walmart locations across the country, as well as for pick-up and delivery of groceries where local and state laws permit. Winemakers Selection debuted to shoppers in 2018.
The move may be an attempt to strengthen Walmart’s grip on grocery sales, which it has been concerned about in recent months. While Walmart has a 10-to-1 advantage over Amazon in grocery, a leaked note from February shows the box-store giant is concerned about increased competitive space and declining market share.
But while groceries are an important area for Walmart — the retailer largely relies on grocery sales to bolster its top line — the fight for consumer wallets is still subject to a win at retail, with Amazon gaining ground for several years. According to a PYMNTS analysis, as of the first quarter, Amazon accounts for 9.1 percent of retail consumer spending and 3.5 percent of consumer spending, and the company is likely to take over as America’s largest retailer next year.