July 18, 2012, 3:37 PM

With e-commerce, Wal-Mart helps draw summer toward a close

The retailer launches a digital school-supply buying site with teachers’ lists.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. today is playing hero to parents and villain to children naïve enough to think summer never ends. A new feature created by the retail chain’s @WalMartLabs research arm enables teachers to digitally submit their classroom supply lists, and online shoppers to buy those items via a new site, classrooms.walmart.com. The effort, set to include a mobile element in coming weeks, launched today as part of the retailer’s larger back-to-school shopping push.

Shoppers visiting that site can find their school via a search box displayed near the top; consumers can search by school name and state. If a school or teacher has submitted a supply list—essentially, the e-commerce version of a service long offered by many Wal-Mart and other bricks-and-mortar stores that asked teachers to drop off their lists—the search calls forth those lists. (A button on the site’s front page encourages teachers to digitally submit their lists.)

For instance, Oak Avenue Elementary School in Los Altos, CA, has submitted supply lists for first through sixth grades, according to a search this afternoon. Clicking on the first-grade list enables parents to not only view the required products—in this case, Crayola crayons, binders, washable markers, glue sticks, disinfecting wipes, facial tissues and a backpack—but also a note from the first-grade teacher. “To simplify the first day of school, please ONLY bring the crayons and binder to place in your child's desk,” the note reads. “Other supplies can be dropped off before/after school on Thursday, 8/23 or Friday, 8/24.”

In the upper right-hand corner, above the teacher’s note, is an estimated “basket price” for all the listed supplies—parents of a first-grader at Oak Avenue can expect to pay $58.22 for supplies. The site also gives parents the option of having supplies shipped to their homes or held for pick-up at a Wal-Mart store. The chain also tries to sell related products on the left-hand side of the site, with links to girls and boys clothing, books, snacks and other items the modern first-grader might need or desire.

The site also features a kind of registry, or wish list, for teachers, says Ravi Raj, vice president of product for @WalMartLabs, which is charged with marrying Wal-Mart’s stores with its social, web and mobile channels. “Teachers spend an average of $300 per year for supplies on their own,” he says, citing the chain’s research.

He says the idea for the back-to-school online shopping site came from a brainstorming session earlier this year; an engineer for @WalMartLabs wanted to devise an easier, more efficient way to buy supplies for children. Raj says he expects a mobile version of the site to be available before school starts. He also expects “tens of thousands” of supply lists to eventually appear on the site. The retailer today was promoting the classrooms site on Walmart.com.

Among the tools to come from the research arm is Shopycat, a Facebook application that culls the posts and Likes of that consumer’s friends on the social network to present gift recommendations from Walmart.com and other e-retailers.

Walmart.com is No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide

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