Wal-Mart to try out locker system to let customers buy online, pick up offline

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (s wmt) executives know that more people want to buy stuff outside of stores. As part of its multi-pronged Wal-Mart eCommerce strategy, the retailer with 4,000 stores in the United States and 10,000 worldwide has been taking orders online and letting customers pick up their purchases in store for the past few years. Now it’s adding another option that other large online retailers have been working on, too: pick it up from a locker at the store, with no Wal-Mart employee to go through.
The locker method will debut this summer at fewer than a dozen stores, probably in one geographic region in the United States. “Really, it’s to test and learn,” said Jeff McAllister, senior vice president of Wal-Mart U.S. Innovations, during a media day at the company’s Wal-Mart eCommerce facility in San Bruno, Calif., on Tuesday. It’s also a way that retailer can match its online rival, Amazon.com (s amzn). Amazon has been offering customers lockers in several cities, to serve customers who order goods but might not have doormen or a front porch where they can receive packages.
With this program, Wal-Mart will box up the items a customer purchases and squeeze the box into a locker that fits just right, McAllister said. Then Wal-Mart will send the customer a message with a code that will allow the customer to open the locker. The customer will initially have a couple of weeks to pick up the purchased items.
This is clearly a bid to burnish its online experience, because most people are close enough to visit a physical Wal-Mart store if they wanted to. Two thirds of people in the United States are within five miles of a Wal-Mart store.
Like other Wal-Mart eCommerce initiatives, if it works, it will expand. If it doesn’t, it won’t. Like similar locker experiments from Amazon, (s amzn) Overstock and others, it’s worth watching as a shot at making retail fit the digital age.