Business

Walmart and Target remodel stores and update technology ahead of holiday shopping rush

Kennedy Byrd, left, the department manager for online grocery and pickup at the Walmart on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh, demonstrates loading packages into Walmart’s new Pickup Tower. The towers are located near the front of participating Walmart stores and can hold hundreds of items. Customers scan a code and pick up items they have previously ordered online, skipping customer service lines.
Kennedy Byrd, left, the department manager for online grocery and pickup at the Walmart on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh, demonstrates loading packages into Walmart’s new Pickup Tower. The towers are located near the front of participating Walmart stores and can hold hundreds of items. Customers scan a code and pick up items they have previously ordered online, skipping customer service lines. bcain@newsobserver.com

Big box retailers Walmart and Target are working to up their game as they prepare for the busy holiday season, battling not just each other for shoppers, but online behemoth Amazon as well.

While Sears is filing for bankruptcy and closing Sears and Kmart stores in the Triangle, Walmart and Target are in the process of remodeling stores and rolling out new services that they say will make the shopping experience easier and more efficient.

Tours of recently remodeled Walmart and Target stores in Raleigh reveal improved technology, brighter LED lighting, updated signage and layouts, an emphasis on merchandise that conveys better quality and style, and lowered displays for improved sight-lines.

Walmart, always with its eye on taking a bite out of the Amazon pie, has taken the bolder step in regard to technology, investing in “Jetson”-esque Pickup Towers that allow customers to shop online and pick up items in stores without standing in customer service lines.

The bright orange beacons are located near the front of participating stores and can hold hundreds of items, according to Kennedy Byrd, the department manager for online grocery and pickup at the Walmart on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh. They make online shopping easier for both employees and shoppers.

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Kennedy Byrd, left, the department manager for online grocery and pickup at the Walmart on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh, demonstrates loading packages into Walmart’s new Pickup Tower. The towers are located near the front of participating Walmart stores and can hold hundreds of items. Customers scan a code and pick up items they have previously ordered online, skipping customer service lines. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

“It’s the best piece of equipment Walmart has invested in,” Byrd said during a store tour last week. “It saves so much time for employees and shoppers. ... It’s an awesome piece of equipment.”

Customers who order online and select the ship-to-store or the pick-up in store option simply scan a code at the tower, and in a few seconds, a window opens and the item appears before them on a tray. They take the item and leave the store, never needing to interact with store associates.

For larger items, there are lockers situated next to the tower.

Walmart market manager Jerry Herrin said it’s about giving customers what they want. “Some shoppers like the interaction with associates, but others want to get in and out quickly,” he said. “We offer both options.”

Currently, the Pickup Towers are in Walmart stores in Raleigh (on New Bern Avenue), Wake Forest, Apex, Holly Springs and Clayton.

Priority for online shoppers

The Target store at Brier Creek offers a priority line at customer service for those picking up online orders.

The way it works, says store manager Lorenzo Smith, is customer service representatives are to stop what they are doing to help those in the order pickup line first. Smith says the store aims to staff enough customer service representatives so that other customers don’t feel slighted.

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The Target at Brier Creek in Raleigh has a priority line for online order pickup and registry assistance. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

Smith says the store also offers a pull-up service, which means customers can park in designated spots near the front door and a Target employee will bring orders to their car.

Walmart has instituted priority options for money services, such as purchasing money orders, refunds and prescription pickups, cutting down on wait times at the pharmacy.

And if you use the Walmart app, you can make a shopping list for your store visit that tells you the precise location by aisle number where items on your list can be found.

Brighter stores, better organized

Both Target and Walmart stores should look brighter and more open to shoppers after remodels are complete.

At Walmart, Herrin says the improved lighting is especially noticed in the fresh foods departments, where it can show off the produce, meats and bakery items. The stores have also added sanitation centers in the meat department stocked with hand sanitizer and plastic bags.

In departments for infants and children, the Walmart redesign puts large items such as strollers and car seats lower, Herrin says, so that customers can try them out without reaching over their heads to pull heavy items off of shelves.

According to Walmart, the company is on track to complete 10 remodels in the Raleigh-Durham metro area this year. That makes 18 remodeled stores and three new store openings in the area in the past three years.

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The Target store at Brier Creek in Raleigh shows off The Barn display housing the Hearth & Hand with Magnolia brand by Chip and Joanna Gaines, a brand exclusive to Target. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

Smith says at Target, stores were remodeled with “ease of shopping” in mind, which means more thought going into product placement and cross-merchandising.

For example, says Smith, his store has a centralized gift card center, seasonally themed areas promoting holidays or events, a Wondershop with holiday food and gifts, and a Fan Central area, which has team apparel for N.C. State, UNC, Duke, Carolina Hurricanes and Carolina Panthers fans. The store also has a carpeted book nook for kids.

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The Target at Brier Creek in Raleigh has a carpeted book nook area for kids. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

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Personalized service

In another example of Walmart listening to customers and reacting to what they want, Herrin says, the company has brought back its beloved layaway program, which lets customers hold items in the store and pay a little each week or month until the item is paid for. The layaway program is open through the holidays (year-round in the jewelry department).

Other Walmart perks:

Shoppers can look for associates wearing “Check Out With Me” badges if they want to skip the checkout line during the holidays and pay for items right there on the sales floor.

The stores also tailor grocery and beauty departments for shoppers based on a blended analysis of sales data for each store and the local demographic data. This can mean larger selections of ethnic food or hair care supplies.

Walmart added a separate room dedicated to health services, where shoppers can get flu shots or health consultations in private.

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Walmart’s Toy Shop stands ready for holiday shoppers at the New Bern Avenue store in Raleigh. Brooke Cain bcain@newsobserver.com

At Target’s Brier Creek store, Smith touts consultants inside the store who work with customers in the apparel departments to help them create looks, and an expanded beauty center with in-store demos on topics such as winter skin care that customers really seem to like.

Other Target in-store perks:

An expanded adult beverage center not only carries the Target wine label California Roots, but a variety of locally brewed beers. Smith says the variety of beverages has increased 50 to 60 percent.

During the holidays, the stores will staff the Tree Center with extra team members who can help customers pick out and locate the perfect tree and lights.

Smith says all Target stores in the area will go through remodels at some point, and that while no two stores will be just alike, the same services should be available at each store.

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