Why Walmart Went Checkout-Free

Will the concept fly with big-basket shoppers?
Walmart exterior
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

As COVID-19 continues to drive touchless and socially distanced shopping experiences, Walmart of Bentonville, Ark., is testing a full menu of checkout options at its various locations, including most recently a Supercenter devoted entirely to self-checkout in its home state.

When it comes to self-checkout, traditional check stands or a hybrid model, it’s all about “finding the right solutions for your shopper base,” says Lei Duran, SVP of Kantar Consulting in Norwalk, Conn. A former Walmart executive, with 20 years of experience as a marketing and merchandising strategist, Duran most recently worked with top CPG suppliers using her knowledge of the mass merchant to grow sales and distribution via marketing and advanced strategic planning.

Recent Kantar ShopperScape survey results fielded during COVID-19 show that Walmart shoppers rate self-checkout as being of greater importance as compared to all shoppers. What’s more, shoppers of the Neighborhood Market format are particularly keen to use self-checkout.

Designed in 1998 as a smaller-footprint option for communities in need of a pharmacy, affordable groceries and merchandise, Walmart Neighborhood Markets are approximately 38,000 square feet. Today, Walmart boasts nearly 700 such markets in its stable.

“Self-checkout makes a ton of sense in Walmart’s Neighborhood Markets,” says Duran. As far as rolling out similar technology to its Supercenters known for stock-up trips and packed shopping carts, the odds may not be in self-checkout’s favor. 

The question on every shopper’s mind regardless of store type, adds Duran, is: “Will self-checkout be quicker? Is it going to be more seamless? 

“Walmart has a ton of data about their shopper,” Duran told WGB. While its exclusively self-checkout Fayetteville store is a Supercenter, it’s also in a college town next to the University of Arkansas, which is exactly the climate in which Walmart believes self-checkout will succeed.

Rather than catering to big families and/or urban shoppers taking public transport to and from the store, the Fayetteville Walmart is testing shoppers on new experiences that are easily managed by smaller households.

“Walmart is always about test, learn and figure out a way to scale it,” explains Duran.  The test, she says, is intended to see whether this system can get customers through the process more quickly than traditional checkout systems, which means time and money well spent for Walmart shoppers.

If successful, Walmart told Fox 5 it will roll out the concept to additional stores.


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