Walmart Lets Customers Pick Up Online Orders Via Vending Machines

Breaking mobile order ahead news: it’s not just for food anymore.

Walmart is now letting customers place orders on its website and pick them up at a designated Pickup Tower in select stores. The Tower holds, retrieves and dispenses online orders by scanning a barcode displayed on the customer’s smartphone screen. It requires no employee direction at all and, of course, no in-store shopping.

The Pickup Tower basically works like a huge, high-tech vending machine for online order pickup. Mark Ibbotson, executive vice president of central operations for Walmart U.S., said on the company’s blog that the new technology allows customers to retrieve their online orders in less than a minute.

Walmart debuted the first of the giant self-service kiosks last fall in a store in Bentonville, Ark. The retail company has now announced that, following the success of the pilot program, it will be expanding the service to other Walmart locations across the U.S.

The Pickup Tower is just for customers using the buy-online-pick-up-in-store service, although a similar self-service kiosk is also in the works for customers who use to shop for their groceries. A pilot is being tested in the parking lot of the Walmart Supercenter in Warr Acres, Okla.

When online grocery shoppers arrive at the kiosk, they can key in an access code to trigger the machine to retrieve their order. Employees pack orders into bins ahead of time and store them in the 20-by-80-foot building, which is equipped with freezers and refrigeration to keep food fresh.

Unlike the Pickup Tower, which is located inside the store, the grocery kiosk has the potential to be open 24 hours a day. The big box chain may hope that this will give it an edge over eCommerce competitor Amazon, which finally opened its Seattle drive-through grocery pickup facilities to the public.

CEO Doug McMillon seems to be banking on it. While Amazon has bigger, better tech and data footprints, Walmart does one better by having an actual, physical footprint, which the company is now doing its best to leverage in creative new ways to keep ahead of the competition.

“We will compete with technology, but win with people,” McMillon has said.