Thinking out of the Big Box: How Big Box stores are competing with Amazon

When stores compete for business, at least in the short term, shoppers benefit.

The current battle royale? Amazon vs. in-store shopping. Yes, this contest has been building for years, but it’s reached a tipping point. A chart of Amazon’s sales numbers have sky-rocketed up over the past few years. The increase in sales has seen malls shuttered, national chains closing stores and stalwarts of retail shaking in their boots.

This level of disruption has prompted two of the biggest names in retail to get very creative with their in-store design, technology, and marketing. This impacts consumers by providing more convenience, an in-store experience that mimics online shopping while providing new amenities, and savings opportunities.

Wal-Mart has test locations around the country, including a store in Texas just outside of Houston where I go to test their cashier-less checkout and automated store. As I enter I grab a scanner from a rack by the door. I grab items from the racks and scan them putting them straight into the shopping bags I brought. I get instant price information and when I hit the checkout, I point my scanner at the kiosk, insert my credit card and 32 seconds after rolling up I am checked out and on my way. Considering that a normal checkout with a cashier takes me five to seven minutes, this is a time-savings.

There are other modernized aspects of shopping at this Wal-Mart: no fast food here, instead a healthy and modern Chobani Café that feels so un-Wal-mart-like it’s almost jarring. There is also a lot of technology: an automated fabric cutter, deli orders placed by tablet, and huge touch screen monitors at the end of some aisles where shoppers can search Walmart.com for items they weren’t able to find in-store.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Anne Hatfield says they don’t see these automation features leading to a reduction in their workforce, instead, she says they are employing people in other areas of the store as they add amenities.

For example Wal-Mart and Target have both tested drive-up service for online orders. I place an order on my phone from Walmart.com, just two hours later I receive a notification that it’s ready for pick-up. At this Wal-Mart test facility that offers the service, I pull up to a kiosk outside and without ever getting out of the car I use the touchscreen to find my order, pull forward into the delivery bay and a Wal-Mart employee loads the items into my car. I would have loved this when my kids still napped in the car or if I had mobility issues. Wal-Mart’s Anne Hatfield tells me, “We see most pickups at night. People order their groceries online and drive thru to pick them up on the way home.” Wal-mart also touts the speed of this shopping method; to compete with Amazon’s one-day delivery, they say picking up at a near-by store on the same-day is more convenient for many shoppers.

Wal-Mart is so convinced about this order online and pick-up in-store model that they are…

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