Walmart is debuting a towering new kiosk that makes it easier to pick up online orders in your local Walmart store.
Early reviews of Walmart’s “pickup tower” give it a thumbs up. In about 20 Walmart stores, you can scan a barcode on your phone at the bright red 16-foot-tall tower in the front of the store. A door opens, your item appears, and you’re done. The whole process takes less than a minute.
I’m ordinarily skeptical of technology as a solution to customer experience problems. A customer’s experience is largely made up of subconscious and emotional factors – what we call the “Emotional Signature.” Technology simply can’t replace the human touch. Except that this is Walmart, a place where personal interactions fail so miserably that anything that gets you out of the store is bound to be an improvement!
Low Prices, Terrible CX
Consider, for example, the in-store pickup system the kiosks are replacing.Commentators have described it as an experience you don’t want to repeat. It’s hours before your item is ready for pickup and then must you go to the back of the store and wait in line for an unhelpful associate who may or may not be able to locate your item or handle any issues you have.
I’ve never tried online pickup at Walmart but I do shop there occasionally. Lorraine and I usually spend the ride home bemoaning the abysmal customer experience. Lines are long and there is no one to help you. Staff have told us “ask someone else, I’m busy.” They talk to each other instead of the customers, and there are no pleasantries in the checkout line. My conclusion is that they obviously don’t care about me or my experience.
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Yet caring is at the very root of a successful customer experience. By showing that it cares, a company triggers positive emotions that make people identify with the brand and want to come back. When a company doesn’t care, customers don’t feel loyalty and are more likely to head to whoever has the best deal of the day.
I’ve talked before about our milkman in the UK. When he came ‘round collecting money every week, he and Lorraine would chat. Lorraine enjoyed this and as a result we kept having our milk delivered, even though it would have been cheaper to buy it in a shop. He cared, and that made us loyal to the dairy.
And then we got a new, more efficient milkman! He wasn’t particularly pleasant to begin with, and he handled collections by dropping off a bill. We were advised to leave a check for him to pick up. He didn’t interact with us, and in the end, we didn’t care to do business with him. We now buy our milk at the shop.
Is Technology the Answer?
Getting back to Walmart, its technology initiatives are clearly a response to competition from Amazon, which has been dipping its toes into retail shops and groceries, areas where Walmart traditionally dominates. As it looks to technology for answers, Walmart must be careful not to repeat its dismal in-store experience in the digital realm. That’s what seems to have happened with the old in-store pickup system. If the digital experience is as bad as the in-store one, there will be little reason to shop Walmart instead of Amazon. The pickup kiosks are promising, as is Walmart’s new partnership with Google.
As a customer experience consultant, I wish Walmart was putting more effort into improving its in-person experience. Online shopping can turn everything into a commodity and this eventually means that both prices and profits decline. Thousands of people visit Walmart on any given day, and a better store experience will build the kind of loyalty that will make people want to shop Walmart for reasons other than “it’s cheapest” or “it’s the only choice.” That kind of loyalty is essential if Walmart truly wants to stay competitive.
On the other hand, if Walmart isn’t going to improve its customer experience, I’ll be glad for any technology that keeps me from having to set foot in the store at all.
Have you used the big red tower yet? Will you be more likely to shop at Walmart because as a result of its introduction?