As the excitement of Walmart’s annual meeting dies down this week, it is pretty clear that the company is making a concerted attempt to court a more upscale consumer. The new website delivers a more lifestyle-driven experience that simplifies navigation and significantly declutters the homepage. But it may also signal less of a focus on low prices.
Much, of course, has also been made about acquisitions of more premium-focused brands and websites like ModCloth, Moosejaw and Bonobos. The central question (and one difficult to answer) is whether Walmart’s ownership is a positive or a negative. There are indications from third-party analytics provider ComScore that traffic at all of these sites has declined. It remains to be seen as to whether that’s an indication of ownership or other marketing strategies being deployed.
The largest acquisition, of course, has been Jet.com, which was purchased for $3.3 billion. Jet’s traffic is also reported down, but Jet is playing an even more critical role in the world of Walmart, as Jet’s founder Marc Lore has now taken a much more prominent position in Walmart’s overall digital strategy.
Walmart WMT +2.02% just announced the launch of a new service, Jetblack, a $50-per-month personal-shopping service. The service gives customers access to personal shoppers through text message. Customers can send a text requesting a specific product, and Jetblack’s couriers will deliver the product as soon as the same day. Customers can also make more general requests, like a birthday or anniversary present, and Jetblack’s personal shoppers will send recommendations.
The service, as described in a press release, is targeted at “time-strapped urban parents” and uses “a combination of artificial intelligence practices and expertise from professional buyers across the home, health, parenting, fashion and wellness categories, as well as parents themselves.” The service will fulfill products from Walmart and Jet.com but also reach out to third-party retailers to complete orders.
While this is a fascinating idea, it also leaves perhaps more questions than answers:
- Will customers pay $600 a year for a service? It is difficult to find comparable examples, but popular subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime cost considerably less.
- Does the Walmart connection matter? Although marketed under Jet, will it suffer from any stigma of being associated with the parent brand, which does not exactly resonate with the target customer?
As always, I applaud Walmart for thinking outside the box. As the acquisition of Flipkart indicates, this is no longer the lumbering Bentonville giant, but a company that is not afraid to make some big bets. This service is an interesting one, both to understand if a company can monetize personalized service on a larger scale and to see if Walmart can successfully court a new customer base.