Wal-Mart to test online delivery lockers in stores

Program to compete with Amazon, others

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc will test the use of lockers in its stores to hold goods ordered online until shoppers pick them up, Neil Ashe, chief executive of its e-commerce unit, said on Tuesday.

The test, starting this summer, is one of many steps the retailer is taking to link its growing e-commerce business with its thousands of stores around the world, Ashe told a group of reporters at the company's e-commerce media day in San Bruno, California.

Amazon.com Inc, which has no stores, is installing lockers in brick-and-mortar stores like Staples Inc to help customers store and pick up online orders securely.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is trying to catch up with Amazon, the biggest online retailer. Wal-Mart hopes its network of physical stores, which number about 4,000 in the United States, will give it an edge as consumers increasingly use smart phones while they shop.

Wal-Mart has been testing the shipping of online orders from a small number of its physical stores for about two years. In 2013, the company plans to expand this program to about 50 stores.

This is an effort to compete with Amazon's successful Prime subscription service, which provides free two-day shipping in the United States for $79 a year.

Using stores as fulfillment centers that are closer to customers allows Wal-Mart to offer same-day delivery and next-day delivery of online orders "at very low cost," said Joel Anderson, chief executive of Walmart.com.

"Is it really efficient to use our stores. We've been picking and putting items in boxes for years," he added. "Ship from store is no different. We are picking items from the shelves and putting them in a box."

Two-thirds of the U.S. population live within five miles of a Wal-Mart store.

Wal-Mart is also competing against Amazon by increasing the number of products it has available for sale on its website.

Product assortment on Walmart.com grew 35 percent to 40 percent to 2 million items in 2012 and the company plans to double that this year, Kelly Thompson, a Wal-Mart merchandising executive said.

Wal-Mart, which hosted a small group of reporters at its e-commerce headquarters south of San Francisco, faced some criticism in social media as part of the event.

The retailer asked reporters who were tweeting comments on Tuesday to use the hashtag #WMTinnovate. Along with tweets from the reporters, #WMTinnovate tweets were being sent from groups and individuals speaking out against the retailer.

For example, the union-backed group Making Change at Walmart posted on Twitter: "@WalmartNewsroom Why don't you start by empowering the women in your stores with equal pay for equal work? #equality #wmtinnovate."

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