November 9, 2011, 1:27 PM

Walmart rolls out an iPad app

The retailer says tablet technology is a long-term investment.

Lead Photo

Users can select a local store and browse in-store inventory in addition to products offered through the retailer's e-commerce channel.

Walmart.com is feeling the heat of mobile commerce, and responding with a new iPad app and an updated iPhone app.

“The web was a big change in commerce,” says Paul Cousineau, Walmart.com vice president of mobile products. “Mobile commerce can have a bigger impact, not only in creating a new channel, but in impacting the in-store experience in our 3,800 U.S. stores.” 30% of Wal-Mart customers own smartphones, and that number is growing, Cousineau adds.

Walmart’s mobile strategy includes the new iPad app and an updated version of its iPhone app that now includes bar code scanning. These new additions complement the merchant’s Android app and mobile commerce site.

Tablets are important to Walmart because many consumers are using them as replacements or supplements to their typical desktop browsing behavior, Cousineau says. A consumer could decide to shop online by leaving the living room to go to the desktop PC in her home office, or remain on the couch and use a tablet, he says. “We are seeing a measureable portion of our web traffic coming from tablets,” he says, though he declines to provide figures. “This is prime real estate in the virtual world. It’s a long-term investment for us.”

The iPad app makes it easy for shoppers to find products quickly, a critical goal in the app’s development, Cousineau says. “We want to show product as quickly as possible,” he adds.

The updated iPhone app, which will be available after approval from Apple Inc., includes a bar code scanner and the ability to create shopping lists to use in a Walmart store. Shoppers have four ways to add items to their shopping lists:  type in a product name, add an item already tagged as a favorite, scan the product’s bar code or speak the product name by using the app’s built-in voice recognition technology. A shopper taps the microphone button to activate voice recognition. Cousineau says the Walmart voice recognition function is based on Nuance Communications Inc. technology and is not linked to Siri, the voice recognition system of the iPhone 4S.

The shopping lists display product prices, and, when available, coupons. “Instead of hunting through the Sunday paper for coupons, as they build their list consumers will be presented with digital coupons,” Cousineau says. Users tap the coupon button to add it to their coupon lists. Because Walmart stores do not have the capability to accept digital coupons, the app prompts the shopper for an email address that can receive the coupons. The coupons must be printed and brought to the store, he says.

Another iPhone app feature in tests at some Walmart stores displays the aisle location for products in a shopping list, Cousineau says. “It will automatically sort them by sections and then by aisles,” he says.

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