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For retailers, the holidays are a time to roll out the latest updates to the shopping experience. It’s a matter of not only being prepared for an influx of traffic, but also debuting new ways to delight customers.
A new slate of releases that Walmart rolled out on Thursday shows how that peak season energy extends to ecommerce. The retailer unveiled a host of new features for the digital shopping experience on Walmart.com and the company’s app that are focused around saving time, money and personalization.
Here’s a look, and The Current's view on each:
Several features aim to help consumers save time.
Buy Now buttons are being introduced on most items, allowing users to purchase directly from a product page without having to go to a cart and separate checkout page.
Skip the line: During the holiday rush, sometimes there is a way to buy an item. Walmart Global Tech and the company’s ecommerce product team developed a virtual queuing experience that will hold customers’ places in line for checkout of in-demand items during Black Friday events (which will be held throughout November). The feature identifies estimated wait time, and how long users have to check out. The feature also holds a place in multiple lines at once.
Most-viewed and most-purchased items will now be included in search results, so users can see popular items. Item pages will also show how many people are currently viewing an item, and how many have it in their carts. This is billed as a way to help ensure users purchase an item on their list before it goes out of stock.
The Current’s view: Each of these features will make shopping more convenient, and will help to ensure customers get the items they want in a year after supply chain challenges made out-of-stocks a real worry. They will also create urgency. By showing how popular a product is and introducing a clock that ticks down, Walmart is clearly looking to inspire sales in the moment. This culminates in being able to click “Buy Now,” without needing to take a moment to second guess. Abandoned carts continue to be one of the ever-present issues in ecommerce, and easier checkout helps to solve that.
Savings will now be more visible.
Green price tags are being introduced on items to denote which items are on sale. Walmart said this is the first feature in a new push to make deals stand out, and added that it will introduce “multiple touchpoints” throughout the season across the homepage, order confirmation page and more.
The Current’s view: This feature highlights a big reason that people shop at Walmart: price. That's especially important to call attention to at a time of 40-year-high inflation. Taking every opportunity to identify savings makes sense. It underscores the company’s value proposition, and creates more incentive to buy a product while it’s on sale. For the company that created the red rollback signs in store, it makes sense that this capability is coming online, albeit in a different color that has a more positive connotation.
Visualization and recommendations will help to personalize shopping experiences.
View in Your Home is a new augmented reality feature that allows shoppers to visualize what a home product would look like in the room where it is intended to go. Users hold their phone up to the room, and an image of the item is then superimposed into the view. Walmart recently added over 200 TVs to this tool, underscoring the popularity of upgrading the home viewing experience during this time of year.
Complete the outfit: Walmart recently launched this feature from visual outfitting and styling solution Stylitics to provide recommendations to shoppers. While shopping for clothing, Walmart now identifies additional apparel and accessories that would complement the style. This was initially available for women’s clothing, and is now opened up for men’s, baby and kids’ apparel for select brands including No Boundaries, Free Assembly, Wonder Nation, Justice and more. In all, Walmart said it has 8,000 items across seven categories, with 16,000 outfit combos. The feature will soon expand to the home category, as well.
Be Your Own Model: Last month, Walmart announced the first iteration of its virtual try-on technology. This app feature displays apparel items on a photo of a person. Rather than simply an overlay, Walmart said its capabilities generate an “ultra-realistic simulation with shadows, fabric draping and where clothing falls on their figure in seconds.” Additionally, it allows for variations in color, size and sleeve length of a particular item. It was available on more than 270,000 items at launch. This follows the company’s acquisition of virtual try-on platform Zeekit in May 2021.
The Current’s view: These features have the opportunity to elevate the shopping experience on Walmart.com. Seeing an item in the space where it will live, easily viewing different variations of products and automatically looking at which other items might match are all elements that don’t happen easily in a store without unloading racks. It’s a sign of the curationa automation advances that software can bring, even if it can’t match the eye test and touch of a physical shopping experience. Given Walmart’s size and the number of items involved, these are also examples of augmented reality and machine learning being implemented at a scale that has few comparisons. Key metrics here, especially for augmented reality, will be incremental sales and returns reduction.
Trending in Shopper Experience
Labor disputes on the West Coast could cause further disruption heading into peak season.
When the first half of 2023 is complete, imports are expected to dip 22% below last year.
That’s according to new data from the Global Port Tracker, which is compiled monthly by the National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates.
The decline has been building over the entire year, as imports dipped in the winter. With the spring, volume started to rebound. In April, the major ports handled 1.78 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units. That was an increase of 9.6% from March. Still it was a decline of 21.3% year over year – reflecting the record cargo hauled in over the spike in consumer demand of 2021 and the inventory glut 2022.
In 2023, consumer spending is remaining resilient with in a strong job market, despite the collision of inflation and interest rates. The economy remains different from pre-pandemic days, but shipping volumes are beginning to once again resemble the time before COVID-19.
“Economists and shipping lines increasingly wonder why the decline in container import demand is so much at odds with continuous growth in consumer demand,” said Hackett Associates Founder Ben Hackett, in a statement. “Import container shipments have returned the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019 and appear likely to stay there for a while.”
Retailers and logistics professionals alike are looking to the second half of the year for a potential upswing. Peak shipping season occurs in the summer, which is in preparation for peak shopping season over the holidays.
Yet disruption could occur on the West Coast if labor issues can’t be settled. This week, ports from Los Angeles to Seattle reported closures and slowdowns as ongoing union disputes boil over, CNBC reported. NRF called on the Biden administration to intervene.
“Cargo volume is lower than last year but retailers are entering the busiest shipping season of the year bringing in holiday merchandise. The last thing retailers and other shippers need is ongoing disruption at the ports,” aid NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said. “If labor and management can’t reach agreement and operate smoothly and efficiently, retailers will have no choice but to continue to take their cargo to East Coast and Gulf Coast gateways. We continue to urge the administration to step in and help the parties reach an agreement and end the disruptions so operations can return to normal. We’ve had enough unavoidable supply chain issues the past two years. This is not the time for one that can be avoided.”