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Marion Walmart adds new services

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NEW SERVICE: The Marion Walmart Supercenter eCommerce Manager, Dennis Cole, shows off the new Walmart Pickup Tower on Monday. The 16-foot tall tower provides a quicker shopping experience for customers.
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CUSTOMER SERVICE: The new 16-foot Walmart Pickup Tower that launched on March 8 at the Marion Walmart. The tower works like a high tech vending machine. The tower is so tall that the store needed to carve out about four feet in the ceiling to make it fit.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion Walmart Supercenter recently launched a Walmart Pickup Tower and Online Grocery Pickup, two services aimed at fast-tracking customer shopping.

According to eCommerce manager at the Marion location Dennis Cole, the tower was put in to help customers increase shopping speed and their quality of life.

"A lot of customers who come in don't have the time to spend shopping for items," Cole said. "Instead of coming in and spending 20 minutes looking for it, now they can just place that order and come in here and get it real fast."

The Walmart Pickup Tower, which launched earlier this month, is 16 feet tall and functions like a high-tech vending machine.

Customers can choose items on Walmart's website and select the “Pickup” option at checkout.

When the item arrives at the store, an associate loads it into the Pickup Tower and customers will receive a notification.

To use the machine, customers scan a barcode from their cell phones. From there, the items are brought down and released through an automatic door.

The tower is able to hold 297 items, Cole added.

Larger items which are too big or heavy for the machine are stored in cabinets adjacent to the machine. Upon scanning the bar code, the proper cabinet door opens, allowing the customer to access the product.

Especially bulky items, such as bikes or trampolines, are stored in the back and brought out by an employee.

Depending on where the item is coming from, it may take one to three days for the item to be ready for pick up, but this isn't always the case.

"I had a customer here the other night who made an order at 11:30 at night and at 11:45 she got an email saying your order is ready," Cole said.

One first-time user of the machine, Barbara Morgan, said she was amazed to see the large machine in the store.

While she said she needs to get used to the technical aspects of the machine, she said she believes it will make grocery shopping easier.

In order to fit the 16-foot tall machine, Walmart had to carve out around four feet in the ceiling, according to Cole.

Machines like this are starting to become the status-quo for Walmart.

“We're really lucky to get this in,” Cole said. “This is a big investment for our community. We're not the biggest Walmart in Indiana, so I think it’s a great investment.”

According to a Walmart press release, more than 20 stores across Indiana have a Pickup Tower, with more expected to arrived throughout 2019.

While a common fear around automation is the potential for the loss of jobs, Cole said the tower has generated 11 local jobs, between personal shoppers and supervisors.

“All of which start at better than our starting rate,” he added.

On March 21, the Marion Walmart launched online grocery pickup, too. Both services can be used at no extra charge to customers.  

"It's a similar process (to the tower), but it's even cooler," Cole said. "Everybody that we've talked to has loved it. They keep saying they're saving time."

Customers can use the Walmart Online Grocery app to place an order. Store shoppers then find and bag the items to be ready for customers who pull into one of the store's designated parking spots.

"If they check in with their app it tells us how many minutes away they are so we can get the order ready. As they pull up we're walking out the door with it and load it up for them,” he said.

The Marion location expected it would get about 30 online orders per day, but currently the store is averaging 40 or more.

“In the last year, Hoosier customers have seen new, more convenient shopping experiences come to their communities,” said Walmart Regional Vice President of Operations Rodney Walker, in a prepared statement. “And we’re just getting started. Our customers will see more stores offering online grocery pickup, Walmart Pickup Towers and other innovations to make shopping faster, easier, and more convenient.”

To Walmart staff it's all about making the customer experience faster and more streamlined.

“It’s absolutely critical to give customers the best value and quality of life that (we can),” Cole said. “When you think about a mom coming into the store with three kids and she wants to get in and out, now she can just pull up and be gone in three minutes.”