Walmart is rolling out a new service, through its Store No. 8 incubator, where shoppers can order items via text message. Known as Jetblack, the platform has quietly been in beta mode in the New York area. It will now be opened up to more applicants in New York who wish to become members, before expanding to other U.S. markets. The retailer made the announcement Thursday at its annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas. The startup is being led by Rent the Runway Co-Founder Jenny Fleiss, who joined Walmart last year. Members will be charged $50 per month for the service, which will give them access to merchandise from other retailers (e.g., Saks, Bluemercury, Pottery Barn), personal shoppers, white-glove same-day or next-day delivery, complimentary gift wrapping, and easy returns.
Total Retail's Take: This news is interesting on multiple fronts. First, Walmart is reaching outside its comfort zone and targeting affluent shoppers ($50 per month is testament to that) with Jetblack. My thought is the $50 price tag is going to be off-putting to Walmart's core demographic, and the affluent shoppers Walmart is targeting with the service don't consider the retailer to be a luxury brand. Second, Walmart is placing its bet on the future of conversational commerce, as Jetblack members will place their orders via text messages to personal shoppers — and, interestingly, not machine learning-powered bots. Lastly, Walmart continues to build out its digital capabilities, with younger, urban customers in mind. Walmart's chief rival, Amazon.com, was lauded for the simplicity of its one-click checkout (which, coincidentally, the patent on expired last year), which made buying from the online giant almost too easy. Walmart is trying to follow Amazon's lead by making it as simple and quick to purchase from the retailer. What could be easier than sending a text to make a purchase? While I'm skeptical of Jetblack's prospects, Fleiss notes that there are "thousands of people on our waitlist."