Have you ever been inside a Walmart or ASDA Supercentre? If you have, you’ll appreciate the possibility of what I’ll share in a moment. If you haven’t, try imaging walking into a store so big you can barely see one end from the other, where the shelves are packed with everything you might ever need, and staff who are often less than helpful (not everywhere mind you, but often).
The point is you can get lost or frustrated if you’re trying to find a certain item that you need, or is on sale. Finding the right section is sometimes challenging, and even if you think you’re in the right spot you might not be.
Enter in-store SMS product help
Last Autumn at TechCrunch’s #hackdisrupt event, one team took on the challenge of creating a hack using Walmart’s API and SMS messaging. Walmart Labs, the research side of the company, sponsored #WMTcode “so they [hackers] could take shopping at Walmart to the next level online, on mobile and in our 5,000+ stores across the U.S.” according to their website.
The winning hack at the event was called Simple Text. It’s an application that allows customers to contact an agent via SMS to request the location of items in store. If the customer needed further help, they could connect with a live service agent over SMS too. If needed, a map of the store would be sent in the text message as well.
In a TechCrunch article, one of the creators, Rachel, commented on the inspiration for the hack, “We built this app because we’ve always been frustrated in stores, especially Walmart. It’s such a huge store”. Sometimes you just want to get in and out of the store, but if you can’t find it then it can be frustrating.
The video below shows how the SMS exchange would work. Though there is no description on the video, I found another version with sound that indicates this was made during the event (the sound is horrible so I opted to include the silent version). So it isn’t an example from an actual store, but just the testing of the process during the hack event. Still, it’s pretty cool how it works.
Promotion and growth
Walmart’s been having a bad time financially lately. They’ve reported losses and are closing 269 stores worldwide. Their troubles come from trying to compete with the likes of Amazon and the general online shopping phenomenon (well maybe not a phenomenon anymore). They’re investing heavily into mobile and ecommerce, which in part accounts for the losses they’ve had.
According to Walmart Labs, the team that created Simple Text will get the chance to test it at one Walmart store. There’s no timeline specified though. One of the challenges mentioned by many is that Simple Text would require Walmart to keep accurate and up-to-date maps of their stores. Being as big as they are, this is a challenge that would need to be overcome.
But if they are really trying to take “shopping at Walmart to the next level…on mobile” they need to add services like this to stay competitive. In addition to the location information given, the SMS exchange also provides a direct link to download the Walmart app on the appropriate store for the mobile device being used. A key to their mobile strategy is to get more users on their mobile app so they can push and advertise their sales directly to the customer.
The team that built Simple Text though, felt that SMS exchanges were far more accessible to most customers. Some people don’t like to install apps, some don’t know how, and some just never use them if they do. But SMS is universal. Just about everyone knows how to send an SMS message, and virtually every mobile in existence today is able to receive and send them. The last message received in any exchange though, is the link to download the app. This still gives the company a chance to promote app usage while appealing to everyone by providing SMS help.
Will we see it at the store?
As I mentioned, there’s been no timeline announced for testing of the hack or whether or not they will actually use it in all the 5,500 stores in the US that their website mentions. There is not even a hint of them using it in any of their global stores.
However, they are on the agenda to speak at the Mobile Marketer’s Mcommerce Summit in New York City in May. Perhaps they’ll reveal a little bit more then. If they do, I’ll find out and share it with you here on the blog.