Apex Walmart is the latest store to have employees do your grocery shopping for you

Walmart is adding more online grocery shopping and pickup locations. The latest in the Triangle to offer the service is in Apex.
Walmart is adding more online grocery shopping and pickup locations. The latest in the Triangle to offer the service is in Apex. BLOOMBERG NEWS

Walmart is continuing to add online grocery shopping and pickup to its Triangle stores – even as it tests delivery inside customers’ homes in other parts of the country.

The retail giant has been rolling out its online grocery pickup service in the Triangle, and on Friday adds the Apex Walmart to its list of stores that allow customers to order grocers online for employees to then shop and deliver to your car. Such services are common in the Triangle at Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Lowes Food – all of which will also deliver to your home.

Walmart, which has always competed on low price, is experimenting more with pickup and delivery services as Amazon threatens to disrupt the grocery industry through its acquisition of Whole Foods.

The Apex Walmart at 3151 Apex Peakway joins the Garner, Holly Springs, Hillsborough and Raleigh locations, which have already seen success in implementing the program, said store manager Scott Hall.

“For customers, this will free up a lot of their time,” Hall said. “We want to give time back to the customer.”

Shoppers can choose from 40,000 grocery offerings and pay for them through the Walmart website or an app. They select a store location and pickup time through the app, which will use GPS to tell store employees when the customer is about five miles away.

Walmart has long allowed customers nationwide to order general merchandise online and pick it up in the store, or have it delivered for a fee. The online grocery pickups, however, are new within the past few years and the roll out is ramping up. Two years ago, only about 100 Walmart locations had the pickup service; now 1,000 do, according to the company. It plans to add the service to 400 other locations this year.

Hall said that his store has assembled a special online grocery team to carry out the service, but that other employees – even the manager – will also help out.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun for us and is really going to boost how the customer sees Walmart,” he said.

How is this different from the grocery shopping and pick up offered by other are stores? It’s completely free, Hall said.

“That’s the biggest part Walmart prides itself on because the others aren’t doing that,” he said.

In other markets, such as Denver and Dallas, Walmart offers home delivery, and last week the company announced it was testing a delivery program in California that allows customers to remotely open the door for delivery workers and then watch as their groceries are put inside their home – all using smart-home technology.

The company has teamed with Google so customers can buy products simply by speaking to Google Home devices.

By focusing on convenience and the use of technology, Walmart is readying for its fight with Amazon as the e-commerce giant enters the grocery market.

Sridhar Balasubramanian, dean of MBA programs and professor of marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, said that Amazon’s Whole Foods acquisition caused a sense of urgency in other industry players to improve their offerings.

“When it comes to grocery, even if they thought Amazon would sometime be there, buying Whole Foods got them into the industry faster than most people expected,” he said.

He noted that Walmart’s grocery pickup service is fairly simple to implement because the fixed costs are low. Even delivering groceries to customers’ homes is something that both Amazon and its competitors can do relatively easily. But Amazon could take the lead through its development of drone-based technology, which traditional grocery outlets are less focused on.

One challenge that Walmart may encounter with the new program is customers’ confidence in employees picking out their grocery items for them, Balasubramanian said. A can of soup is one thing, but will customers trust someone else to select the most pristine apples for them?

“When customers do things for themselves, they think they have the ability to do it better than anybody else,” he said.

Although Walmart is a bit behind the curve in offering pick-up groceries, Balasubramanian noted that it’s typical for larger players in an industry to be slower in changing their ways. However, given Walmart’s size and resources, it has the to potential to remain a strong contender in the grocery market, even with threats from Amazon.

“They are a company with a lot of muscle and scale, and if they wanted to do something in this area, I don't see why they couldn’t focus and get this done,” he said.