When people think of Walmart they rarely think of cutting-edge technology. That’s because the chain has never positioned itself as a technology company that happens to sell groceries in the way that rivals including Amazon have marketed their business.
Behind the scenes, however, since its purchase of Jet.com in 2016, the retailer has invested billions in technology. At first, Jet.com founder and former Walmart (WMT) – Get Free Report executive Marc Lore had to pull the company’s executives into the future kicking and screaming.
The retailer had a very successful model based around brick-and-mortar stores. For many of the chain’s leaders, it seemed wasteful to invest tens of billions in the supply chain, infrastructure, and technology when what it already offered worked so well.
Walmart has always been the retailer that offers low prices and has locations near pretty much every American. It’s unlikely that most shopping will move to the internet when even during the pandemic lockdowns the percentage of retail sales that were made online never topped 20%.
That number currently comes in even lower, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“E-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2023 accounted for 15.6% of total sales,” the government agency shared.
That’s a powerful argument against investing in digital for a chain so heavily tied to in-person shopping, but Walmart embraced an omnichannel model. Now, as the chain plans to remodel 650 of its stores in the next year it’s also embracing technology in a way that many customers will love.
EV charging stations are still scarce in many parts of the country.
Image source: Walmart
Walmart embraces a major technology change
Walmart wants its stores to be destinations for customers. That’s why it offers pharmacies, restaurants, eye exams, and glasses, and even music lessons at some locations,
If the chain can capture ancillary business by selling customers a bottle of scotch or a pizza, Walmart not only makes more money, it keeps its customers happy. Not having to stop to pick up a pizza or get a 12-pack for the big game simply makes life better for the retailer’s customers while also adding to its bottom line.
That’s why grocery stores often have gas stations in the parking lots. Offering gas, usually at a good price, gives potential customers another reason to visit a store. It adds convenience and allows people to clear their to-do lists faster so they can do things they enjoy more than shopping and gassing up.
Gas stations, however, are prevalent. They’re pretty much everywhere and unless you’re in some pretty desolate parts of the country, you never have to worry about running out of gas because you can’t find one.
That’s not the case for people who own electric vehicles (EVs). Some parts of the country have embraced EV charging stations more than others, but Tesla and other EV owners have to be aware when they travel too far from home where they can charge.
Walmart plans to become a big part of solving that problem by adding EV charging stations to the 150 new stores it plans to build over the next three years as well as the 650 its plans to remodel.
Walmart solves a Tesla, auto industry problem
Walmart calls its new stores and remodeling plans, its “Store of the Future” concept. The effort, which began last year, includes more than just EV charging stations.
“Each store is designed to deliver a more modern shopping experience and improve the lives of our associates and customers from the moment they step into the new space,” Walmart Realty Senior Vice President Hunter Hart wrote in Oct. 2023 on the company’s website. “Every change is thoughtful. They all ladder up to a greater goal: to meet our customers wherever they are, leveraging our stores to welcome people to a more modern, highly connected Walmart
The next round of remodels and the 150 new stores that will be built will add EV chargers to the mix.
“These new facilities will be designed with sustainability in mind, including more energy-efficient equipment and lighting, lower-impact refrigerants, and more. We’re also working on developing a coast-to-coast network of affordable electric vehicle fast-charging stations we hope will make EV ownership a more convenient and accessible choice for Walmart shoppers and associates,” the company shared in a press release.
Adding EV chargers to what will be 800 Walmart locations out of what will be over 5,000 stores under the retailer’s various brands goes a long way toward making EV ownership viable nationwide. That’s roughly 16% of all Walmart locations adding charging capability.
With 90% of Americans living within ten miles of a Walmart store, even that number of locations should enable longer EV trips with less worry across much of the country.