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From failure, Walmart learns a new approach

Walmart unveiled the Scan & Go app to help shoppers speed through self-checkout. People couldn’t figure out the app, but Walmart took what it learned and created another service.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press/File 2013

NEW YORK — Walmart thought shoppers would like the opportunity to use a smartphone app to scan items they want to buy as they walk through store aisles. In theory, they could speed through self-checkout.

But customers couldn’t figure out how to work the Scan & Go app during tests in 200 stores, so Walmart nixed it.

Instead of looking at the app as a failure, though, Walmart took what it learned from Scan & Go to create another service: It found that customers like being able to track their spending, an insight that became the impetus for a national program that enables shoppers to store electronic receipts.


The story behind Scan & Go illustrates how traditional retailers increasingly are using the nimbler approach to innovating that Silicon Valley startups are known for. Rather than perfecting a program before rolling it out — as most retailers do — they’re doing more testing and refining as they go along. If the tests work, they’re rolled out nationally. If they don’t, retailers shutter them and incorporate what they learn into other projects.

The test-and-learn approach comes as retailers face intense competition for US shoppers, many of whom are still struggling financially. The industry also is fighting to keep pace with rapidly changing technology and online retailers like that lure customers with low prices and beefed-up services.

Here’s a look at some Walmart tests and what it’s learning from them:


Walmart is testing same-day delivery of groceries, fresh produce, and other products in San Jose and San Francisco in California and Denver. Shoppers select a time slot and their items are delivered on the same day if ordered by 8 a.m. Delivery fees range from $3 to $10.

It’s also testing same-day delivery of general merchandise like toys and TVs in Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis if ordered by noon. Customers pay $10 for an unlimited number of items.


In January, Walmart began offering customers the option to order online and pick up their items in stores in Denver.

WHAT HAPPENED: The same-day delivery service has been well received. But in Denver, the pickup option is growing faster than home delivery. Executives reason that shoppers don’t want to be holed up at home waiting for deliveries. Walmart doesn’t have any plans to roll it out nationally yet.


In late 2012, Walmart launched, a mail snack subscription service that let shoppers taste five to eight surprise snacks that weren’t sold on the discounter’s shelves for a monthly fee of $7. Walmart then solicited feedback in the site’s social community so that it could spot food trends.

WHAT HAPPENED: closed within a year.

Walmart declined to elaborate, but analysts say Walmart customers weren’t interested in paying for surprise items.

‘‘I think any subscription service Walmart puts forth has to be aimed at the sweet spot of their shopper — straight up groceries and toiletries,’’ said Scott Shamberg, a managing director at a Chicago retail marketing agency.


Last November, Walmart’s UK operation, ASDA, began testing 3-D printing technology that allows shoppers to get 8-inch figurines themselves. The cost: $100. The service moved around from various stores, but in June, was officially launched at one in Manchester.

WHAT HAPPENED: ASDA spokesman Russell Craig said the test has been so popular that the retailer is considering rolling it out to other stores.


Some of Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores also are testing 3-D programs. Last month, at the newly opened Sam’s Clubs in Montgomery, Ill., and another outside Fort Worth, 3-D printers scanned shoppers’ faces and then they had resin printouts of their heads placed on action figure-sized bodies of one of three Marvel characters.