High-tech tower helps retail giant with online orders

What is a brick-and-mortar business to do in this ever-increasing tech-driven world? For the St. Lucie West Walmart, the solution seems to be a 16-foot “vending machine” stocked with customers’ online orders.

“Walmart is always investing in technology,” store manager Kyle Hughes said. The tower will increase speed and convenience for customers to pick up orders they placed online. Once the order is scanned, items are retrieved in a matter of 14 seconds.

Hughes said the tower – only the second one in Florida to launch, after Naples – was in the store for about a month prior to launch and took a week to build. During the process, he heard comments from customers asking if it were a transporter or some other high-tech piece of equipment that would be at home in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Nearly three-quarters of the items Walmart has in stock in the general merchandise section will fit in the tower, Hughes said. Sadly, large screen TVs are just too large.

The overall trend when a new technology comes in seems to be a loss of jobs. Not so at the St. Lucie West Walmart, Hughes said.

The store is hiring more associates to help stock the tower with customers’ orders. In this way, the technology is providing more customer efficiency and convenience – and more jobs.

To use the tower, customers place their order online at Walmart.com and select the Pickup option at checkout. When the order notice arrives at the store, an associate loads it into the Pickup Tower and the customer retrieves by scanning a bar code sent to their smartphone. If the item is too large, the tower will notify the customer that an associate is on the way with the remainder of the order.

Sometime next year, Hughes hopes to be able to offer online grocery orders, just another step to digitize the big box store.

Over the weekend, the St. Lucie West Walmart Supercenter celebrated the Tower and the end to its extensive renovations with a grand re-opening.

Among the changes made were an increase to 22 self-checkout stations from the original eight, and an overhaul of the electronics department providing interactive displays allowing customers to test drive laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

Other improvements include:

  • Enhanced infants department with strollers at floor level and easier access to everyday essentials like formula and diapers.
  • Expanded selection of German foods.
  • Industrial and power tools added to assortment in hardware.
  • Remodeled women’s and intimate apparel departments.
  • Refreshed bakery sales floor with new tables and fixtures.

Hughes said the St. Lucie West store was selected for the new tower and overhaul in part because it is an “academy” store – a training facility for associates who work in one of two markets. Those markets include 11 stores in St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties and the Neighborhood Market stores.

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