Lost at Wal-Mart? There's an app for that
Smartphone features help shoppers find what they're looking for -- and hopefully buy more.
By Alyssa Oursler
With top-line troubles weighing on their shoulders, retailers are doing anything they can to get customers to buy more, including lowering prices, adding incentives and squeezing into cities.
But according to Nathan Pettyjohn, the CEO of Aisle411, about 20% of retail sales are lost not because of a tough economy or low consumer spending but because shoppers simply can't find what they're looking for.
As a shopper, I can relate. I've walked into a Wal-Mart (WMT), for example, countless times looking for just one item and immediately felt like I was lost in a foreign city. The store layouts aren't uniform, and the only thing they all have in common is their massive size.
But, as they say, there's an app for everything these days. And now, there's an app for that, too.
Wal-Mart is just one of a few stores that have introduced indoor navigation apps to help customers become more efficient -- and hopefully more proficient -- shoppers.
Wal-Mart's app allows you to search for an item and find the aisle number for its location, while Target (TGT) and Walgreen (WAG) have made their floor layout plans available on gadgets like the Apple (AAPL) iPhone.
Home Depot (HD), with its 40,000 or so items, also has an aisle-number locator, which it is actively working to make even more accurate and consistent.
So far, customers have responded well. Within two weeks of Wal-Mart's May launch of the additional feature, about 15% of page views were from shoppers locating goods in stores, USA Today reports.
The move to get customers to find and buy more products comes as the competition between Wal-Mart and Target is as tough as ever -- with the latter recently stealing the title of "cheapest" from its bigger rival. Both stores are also facing pressure from online retailers like Amazon (AMZN).
The increased prominence of e-tailing has even pushed some stores to include coupons, prices, store hours and bar code scanners in their app offerings -- things that are usually not released, for competitive reasons.
For investors who think this move will indeed set the company's revenue back on track, Wal-Mart has other things going for it as well, such as dividends.
The company is part of InvestorPlace's list of Dependable Dividend Stocks, a compilation of companies that are rock-solid when it comes to preserving capital and making regular payments.
It is also a member of InvestorPlace's Real America Index, a list of companies -- one from each state -- whose performance provides a window on the health of the U.S. economy. Wal-Mart represents the state of Arkansas in the index.
And it's not as if things are all that bad now. Wal-Mart has seen gains of about 37% over the past 12 months. If the phone app boosts sales even further, things seem to be looking good for the discount giant.
As of writing this, Alyssa Oursler did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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