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Walmart Concept Store Ushers In ‘Second Phase’ of Brick-and-Mortar Redesign

Walmart is showing off a prototype of what its stores could look like in the future—and it has invoked comparisons to one of its chief competitors.

The mass merchant unveiled a redesigned store concept featuring more interactive elements such as dynamic displays, QR codes and digital screens to help its brands and products stick out to the consumer.

Upon the reveal, various publications highlighted that these characteristics were similar to Target’s recent store remodeling, which was part of a companywide $7 billion investment in 2017. These remodels were heavily focused on elevating the brands and product presentation experience with large displays, specialized lighting and clear-cut navigation.

Walmart recently debuted the first of these experiences in its incubator location, Store 4108 in Springdale, Ark., which is less than 20 miles from the company’s Bentonville headquarters.

Given the theme “Time Well Spent,” the store has one major objective—making Walmart a destination where customers want to spend their time, according to Alvis Washington, Walmart’s vice president, marketing-store design, innovation and experience.

“In today’s omnichannel world, customers still want to experience—touch, feel and try—items,” Washington said in a blog post announcing the redesign. “So, we’re now aiming to make customers feel wowed and proud when they shop with us. We’re using powerful design elements to show off amazing products that wow our customers, and when they see the value, they are proud of their choice and purchase.”

When a shopper grabs a razor off the shelf, the top screen will automatically display customer reviews about that specific razor.
When a shopper grabs a razor off the shelf, the top screen will automatically display customer reviews about that specific product. Walmart

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Early results show customers are indeed “wowed by the redesign,” Washington said. Walmart has not indicated how many of the retail giant’s 4,742 U.S. stores will undergo the makeover.

Walmart calls the remodeling the “second phase” of its brick-and-mortar redesign, with the first phase initially starting in late 2020. Close to 1,000 stores have already been renovated as part of phase one, which focused on improving elements like navigation and wayfinding and was inspired by designs often seen in airports.

Those remodels included new signage meant to encourage customers to download and use the Walmart mobile app in stores and help them navigate through the aisles. The initial remodels also included self-checkout kiosks and contactless payment systems, and select stores also added the company’s mobile “Scan & Go” self-directed checkout.

Washington said the feedback to these changes was “overwhelmingly positive.”

The current second phase will include physical elements such as new lighting, space enhancements, dynamic displays, QR codes and digital screens in an effort to revitalize the company’s visual merchandising capabilities.

Walmart’s strategy is a break from tradition, in which the company also sought to flood the consumer with as much product as possible, squeezed into tight aisles to offer an extensive selection. With the pivot to clear visuals, Walmart hopes that consumers will feel more engaged with the products and ultimately be enticed to buy.

The four principles of “Time Well Spent”

The redesign at Store 1408 is based on four design principles: “activated corners,” elevated brand shops, more space to discover and digital touch points.

Within the activated corners, displays are designed within some store departments to help pull customers in and provide them with a better “touch and feel” of the product in its natural environment. For example, the home department may feature a living room or bedroom set up where the customer can squeeze a throw pillow or feel the coziness of a blanket, then find those items onsite to purchase and take home, or order them online.

Next, the store’s elevated brand shops are a repackaged version of the “store within a store” experience. Apparel shops will highlight Walmart’s owned and national brands.

“New parents will not want for inspiration when they visit the baby department. They will be greeted by elevated displays showcasing all the items needed to create a dream nursery as well as strollers and car seats that are brought out of the box to allow for test drives,” said Washington. “Beauty will also showcase exciting shops where new and trending items are given a home, and men’s grooming tools can be seen and experienced.”

Elevated displays showcase Walmart's "dream nursery."
Elevated displays showcase Walmart’s “dream nursery.” Walmart

While the Target comparisons are valid for both of the first two principles, they also carry similarities to that of traditional department stores, in which different departments or individual brands have sections or activations highlighting specific products.

In providing more space for shoppers, Walmart aims to generate more product discovery, while at the same optimize the assortment to elevate storytelling.

The final principle hinges on the success of its digital touch points, which have been a key facet in the evolution of the modern store experience. Digital screens and QR codes are designed to give shoppers more insight on the product at hand, and add value to the purchase by showing similar products, an entire collection or compatible services.

For example, in the Walmart’s pets section, a customer may scan a QR code to find additional dog bed options, learn about Walmart’s pet insurance service options or have a 20-pound bag of kibble delivered to their door.

The move is the latest advancement for Walmart, which has made inroads throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to become a more innovative retailer regardless of sales channel. Some of the biggest additions have been the Walmart+ membership program and the expansion of its two-hour “store to door” Express delivery service.

Last month, the retail giant said it wanted to expand its InHome delivery service to 30 million households by the end of the year, up from the 6 million that had been in its network. To support the expansion, the company plans to hire more than 3,000 associate delivery drivers this year and build out a fleet of 100 percent all-electric delivery vans.

Walmart’s adaptation even involves letting other businesses use its proprietary services. Chico’s FAS has already onboarded the mass merchant’s GoLocal same-day delivery-as-a-service in select markets, leveraging Walmart’s contract workers to pick up items at its stores and bring them to shoppers. And U.S. retail customers of tech giant Adobe can now integrate Walmart’s cloud-based fulfillment technologies in their own physical stores starting early this year.