Walmart Expands Grocery Pickup in Battle With Amazon

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By Nathan Layne and Sruthi Ramakrishnan

Walmart Stores (WMT) is expanding free grocery pickup service to several U.S. markets as it seeks to capitalize on its network of physical stores amid growing competition with (AMZN) and others investing in home delivery.

The world's largest retailer said Tuesday that it would start offering curbside pickup for groceries ordered online in eight new markets this month -- including Atlanta and Salt Lake City -- with more to be added in the coming weeks.

Walmart has been testing online grocery delivery services in two markets and pickup in the five markets of Denver, Phoenix, San Jose, California, Bentonville, Arkansas, and Huntsville, Alabama.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"We are not walking away from delivery. "But right now the focus for us is pickup, driven largely by what our customers are telling us.%Tuesday's announcement solidifies a strategy of playing to its bricks-and-mortar footprint, with an estimated 70 percent of the U.S. population living within five miles of one of its 4,600 stores.

"We are not walking away from delivery," said Michael Bender, chief operating officer of global e-commerce at Walmart. "But right now the focus for us is pickup, driven largely by what our customers are telling us."

The move comes as rivals attempt to find the right business model for tapping demand for pickup and delivery services.

Target (TGT) this month partnered with Instacart to deliver groceries for $3.99 an order in a pilot offering in Minneapolis. is testing delivery in Seattle, New York, Philadelphia and California, for a $299 annual fee.

Bender said Walmart is targeting pickup in part because it allows customers to pinpoint a pickup time, rather than having to be at home at a set delivery time of fresh items. He cited a busy mother with children as an example of the type of customer that would benefit from the service.

Shoppers can choose from about 30,000 items, roughly the same assortment as in stores. After ordering and paying online, customers drive to the outlet at a designated time and workers load items into their cars. Fayetteville and Charlotte, North Carolina; Ogden, Utah; Nashville, Tennessee; Tucson, Arizona; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, are the other new markets for the service.

Walmart will add a new role of "personal shopper" to retrieve and store the items. In some cases, that will entail promoting workers within a store, but overall it expected to add some headcount related to the service, Bender said.

Neil Stern, senior partner at retail consultancy McMillan-Doolittle, said investing in pickup makes sense from a cost perspective.

"The economics of pickup are much better for a retailer. Delivering to the home remains costly, even as services like Instacart and Shipt attempt to reinvent the model," Stern said.
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