Walmart’s newest service brings texting and personal shopping together

Discussion
Sources: Walmart/Jetblack
Jun 01, 2018
George Anderson

Walmart announced the limited launch of a new personal shopping service, Jetblack, that combines real people and artificial intelligence to offer product recommendations for everyday staples and birthday gifts to busy customers (primarily moms) and delivers them on the same or next day at no additional charge.

The service, which is initially available in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, is the first to launch from Walmart’s Store No. 8 technology incubator. Jetblack is being led by Jenny Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway and also head of Code Eight, the first portfolio company within Store No. 8.

Jetblack is available by invitation only and charges a monthly subscription of $50 to members. It combines the expertise of professional buyers across categories, including fashion, health and wellness, home and parenting, with artificial intelligence to find the right products to recommend. It also makes use of shopper recommendations to expand the overall knowledgebase.

While most of the items sold come from Walmart or Jet.com, the service will also procure other products from local retailers and brand suppliers. Walmart offered examples such as finding a specific beauty cream from a member’s favorite local shop. The service is designed to help customers out in a pinch, such as finding and delivering custom Easter baskets while kids are asleep.

Walmart contends that when the beta for Jetblack was completed in Manhattan earlier this year, members said using the service was “as easy as texting a close friend who knows your preferences.” The service promises competitive pricing on all purchases with hassle-free returns. There is no minimum fee to place an order and free giftwrapping and handwritten notes are part of the service. Interested consumers can apply to be put on a waitlist for the service on the Jetblack site.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your reaction to Walmart’s new Jetblack personal shopping service via text? How do you think the interaction between human and artificial intelligence is likely to work out as the service is expanded? How do expect its retail rivals to react?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"We’ve seen a few different ideas for online personal shopping before, but I like that this doesn’t seem to need as much of a time buy-in. "
"This is a new concept for Walmart on two fronts. It is geared to higher-income households and it starts in NYC."
"I like this one. A lot! You have to hand it to Walmart and Jet in keeping up in the innovation category with Amazon."

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23 Comments on "Walmart’s newest service brings texting and personal shopping together"


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Charles Dimov
BrainTrust

Wow — there are some truly exciting developments coming from Walmart. Walmart takes center stage on this one. It is also a brilliant example of expanded omnichannel shopping. AI is a hot topic. There are many fears about the technology. I think this is a great example of how it is helpful — and perhaps how it will revolutionize a piece of retail, too. No doubt this is going to become a new norm, similar to voice commerce. Text commerce: the next practical frontier.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

This is a game changer. Walmart is essentially saying they realize that low prices every day isn’t the future and affluent city customers may be. Another shot at disrupting Amazon

Dave Nixon
BrainTrust

Another step in the process of adding a new upstream demographic for Walmart, using a specific geography profile to launch it. This service will lure new types of customers to Walmart, because it is a totally segregated model from the physical retail experience and discount approach they currently own. A seamless path to purchase, digital, personalized and convenient. I expect this to jump for Walmart.

Max Goldberg
Guest

This is a big step forward for Walmart, combining AI and past preferences to provide shopping recommendations, coupled with speedy delivery. This is where shopping is going. If they can satisfy customer wants, this service will roll out geographically, while appealing to urban Millennials, who traditionally shun Walmart. It will be interesting to see how Amazon responds.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Above all else, the fact Walmart is experimenting and testing new things shows the business is on the front foot and is prepared to evolve and change. That can only be a good thing.

Although I have not experienced this service, it looks convenient and relevant for people leading busy lives. It is also in a market and serving customers that Walmart may not normally reach.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Impressive. What’s interesting to me as a child of Depression-era parents is the move away from price comparison and toward convenience. A customer sitting at a laptop could find hundreds of toddler car beds, while Jetblack shows only a few. This should appeal to Millennials, but not necessarily their parents.

Danny Silverman
Guest

I think that nails a key benefit more than anything. In many ways, the noise of online shopping, and Amazon in particular, has created this opportunity. Too many listings are from unknown brands, have potentially fake reviews and may otherwise be gamed to surface high in search. Bringing AI plus humans to cut through the noise would be of great value to those who like online shopping but don’t always trust what they’re seeing in search.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

I like this one. A lot! You have to hand it to Walmart and Jet in keeping up in the innovation category with Amazon. I think this is the perfect intersection of how to implement AI and human interaction and/or guidance depending on which side of the process you happen to be on at the time. If this makes it in NYC, I think it could make it anywhere (as the song says). Looking forward to seeing where this goes next in terms of functionality as well as geography.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

This is a potentially brilliant strategy being deployed by Walmart’s innovation team, of merging text messaging powered by AI with intuitive commerce. Walmart has continued to impress with their relentless investments in digital native brands (jet.com, Bonobos, ModCloth, etc.), as well as with their drive towards creating a distinct branding strategy which will resonate extremely well with Generation Z, Millennials or any generation that simply wants to leverage texting to buy everyday staples and convenience items.

Along with this innovation, of course, has to be an element of trust, transparency around data privacy, pricing, etc. As we have witnessed with AI-backed voice commerce, there are price differentials between mobile/desktop shopping.

As far as concern for consumers goes — with too much seamlessness, perhaps we lose the element of choice, and the ability to use our discretion regarding which products and at what pricing we ultimately choose. Regardless, I am very interested to see how this plays out.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

Wow — this is Walmart at a whole new level! I think that many hypermarkets rested on their legacy of marketing to the masses. Yesterday’s “masses” are, today, composites of segments who respond very differently to offers, environments and services. To pull it off, Jetblack requires incredible sophistication in data, infrastructure and systems. Like Amazon, Walmart might not get the first iteration completely right, but they will gain iterative experience at personal marketing to “units of one.” In order to attract and retain upscale customers, Walmart needs to push the envelope … and this one looks like the right stretch at the right time.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Chris, you nailed it. This is a profound shift in overall strategy for Walmart and it will be exciting to follow this closely.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Nice test. It’s easy to say “that’s not Walmart’s customer,” but why not find out for sure? I really like the whole Store No. 8 idea. All retailers need a Store No. 8 today or, more to the point, yesterday.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is a new concept for Walmart on two fronts. It is geared to higher-income households and it starts in NYC (not a Walmart stronghold). We have to wait and see how this works out as I don’t quite understand the logic behind the decision, other than the fact that Walmart has deep enough pockets to test concepts without breaking the bank. I can’t see upscale retailers worrying about competing with Walmart.

Ray Riley
BrainTrust

Continuing to zig as Amazon zags with an emphasis on human connection and leverage. Competing with Amazon on price isn’t sustainable, and Walmart recognizes this by the series of training, education, and now concierge-style initiatives being rolled out. Walmart is clearly going after a target demographic with Jetblack, and I’m sure they’ll have loads of data scientists and analysts paying attention to each algorithmic recommendation for accuracy and customer satisfaction. They could just nail it before they scale it.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

The clash of the technical superpowers continues. Who would think that Walmart would be in the mix? Our society is quickly becoming data-driven in all aspects of our lives. Using AI is a natural progression of data collection. The tug-of-war between the brick-and-mortar and online retail giants continues. It’s an exciting journey to see where this all balances out and to see where shopper expectations will take the digital revolution.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I’ll be interested to see if this works out. Ignore the AI aspect. Walmart will get $50 more per customer that is less likely to be their customer for a level of convenience that is either not very incremental or may apply more to urban than suburban/rural stores. Rivals should worry about something else.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Jetblack’s service seems to be easy, fast and fun. The interaction is quick and looks to be pretty accurate in terms of a conversation. The challenge Walmart faces is keeping the interface accurate enough to provide the consumer with the best advice the first time. If the advice starts going down a path the consumer does not expect, the consumer will loose interest quickly. I expect Walmart’s competitors will need to develop a similar capability especially if consumers like it right away.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

The vision that immediately comes to mind is Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada delivering a not-yet published Harry Potter book to her boss. $50 a month is awfully cheap for a program that is essentially a personal assistant.

The fact that it’s invitation-only and you have to apply to be waitlisted will build demand. And a buzz. It’s like trying to get your kid into the premier school everyone’s talking about. That it’s Walmart and not some upscale retailer is the icing on the cake. Brilliant.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

In theory, Jetblack looks like an attractive service for busy people, especially moms, as it could streamline shopping and save them valuable time. The true test will be how accurate the AI is in predicting and selecting the right products for its members.

I think it was smart to create a new brand for this service, Jetblack, as it make it appear more exclusive and more premium than the Walmart brand. While the initial audience is by invitation only to targeted affluent demographics, as they refine the processes and AI algorithms, they will likely expand aggressively. Other retailers will take a wait-and-see approach and jump in if they see Jetblack take off.

It is amazing how hot subscription-based services have become, but it makes sense to appeal to time-starved consumers, which is a growing population.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

Walmart takes another step forward with this for sure. The experience-based tech makes it more about the shopper than it is about price. I’d even expect non-traditional Walmart shoppers to join as they hear about the service from family or friends. Other retailers can look to Walmart as an example of how to move a traditional retail operation to actually innovate.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

I’m really enjoying some of the ideas Walmart’s been coming up with — if nothing else, I admire their willingness to try new things (and learn from them). This is a really interesting spin on personal shopping. We’ve seen a few different ideas for online personal shopping before, but I like that this doesn’t seem to need as much of a time buy-in. You can just pick up your phone, tap out a message and put it down and get on with something else, you don’t have to sit in front of the screen and look at options. I think that if they can nail the AI and personalisation side so that the recommendations are really good, then this might be very attractive for the time-poor, but digitally savvy.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
“Need it. Text it. Get it.” That really sums it up! This is an impressive move by Walmart to do something we’d normally expect to see from Amazon. There are a number of smart moves here by Walmart. First, the unique branding to distance it from the Walmart brand for which the target demographic (New Yorkers) feels no attachment or loyalty. Second, getting $50 a month for a subscription service from a group of shoppers who were unlikely to become Walmart customers at all is a fantastic coup. What are the odds these customers are also Amazon Prime members? Next, this is a great use case for AI supplementing the shopping journey without replacing the human element that this demographic assigns a value to. The video does a great job showing the text-based interaction. I’d be curious to see if Walmart adds voice capability through an app to this service to make it even easier for busy customers. This shows us just how Walmart is thinking about the future of shopping and how that affects… Read more »
Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Walmart doesn’t understand marketing to affluent consumers. Or it’s a PR stunt to one-up Amazon and attempt to reposition Walmart.

Asking those who are least likely to be your customer to give you $50/month and their mobile phone number so you can sell them something on their most private device is absurd.

Walmart would experience more success by acquiring cell phone numbers of HNWIs and charging to keep them private. But I think that’s illegal.

Technology provides new marketing opportunities. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something or that it will be successful.

Stick a fork in this idea.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"We’ve seen a few different ideas for online personal shopping before, but I like that this doesn’t seem to need as much of a time buy-in. "
"This is a new concept for Walmart on two fronts. It is geared to higher-income households and it starts in NYC."
"I like this one. A lot! You have to hand it to Walmart and Jet in keeping up in the innovation category with Amazon."

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