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Consumer Trends

Walmart’s new restaurant play

Walmart rendering
Illustration courtesy of Walmart

Walmart is aiming to reinvent the shopping center for an e-commerce age with a new sort of open-air complex incorporating restaurants, food halls and food trucks.

The centers are intended to function as a reimagined version of traditional town squares—crossroads where consumers gather for a meal, a community event or some shopping, or maybe to cross a chore or two off the to-do list.

The anchor is a Walmart Superstore, complete with a grocery pickup station. Around it, in what would be parking lots at a traditional Walmart big-box store, are the dining and recreational options, including family activities such as bowling or driving golf balls.

The plan is no pipe dream. A Walmart executive revealed at a retail industry event last week that development of the new centers, in a variety of formats, is underway at eight sites in seven states. In those locations, a Walmart was already in operation. The other facilities are being carved from the parking lots and surrounding vacant land. (A Superstore typically sports 6 to 8 acres of parking spaces.)

The revamped complexes will be called Walmart Town Centers, LB Johnson, Walmart’s VP of realty operations, told retailers attending a regional meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Among the restaurants mentioned by Walmart as potential partners in the complexes are Bartaco, Shake Shack, Chipotle and Caribou Coffee. Walmart indicated that it intends to lease the restaurants their sites, rather than operate the outlets as a franchisee.

Also incorporated into the space could be fun and food concepts such as Pinstripes.

Other draws could include gas stations, pet shops, skateboard parks, gyms, bicycle-sharing locations and jogging trails.

In some instances, the Town Centers will be located adjacent to parks and other civic centers.  In others, they would be built around an area where food trucks could congregate.

In all of the designs depicted by Walmart on a special website, the amount of space allotted for parking is less than the current norm for a Superstore. The configurations suggest that Walmart expects consumers’ dependence on travel by cars, or at least the conventional sort, to decline. The plans also encourage pedestrian traffic.

Going cashierless

The Reimagined Centers, as Walmart refers internally to the new formats, are not the retailer’s only experiments with new sorts of retail outlets. The company has also revealed plans to open a cashierless version of its big-box membership concept, Sam’s Club.

Called Sam’s Club Now, the Dallas prototype will require shoppers to use an app within the store. Customers scan products to compute what they owe, then pay in a cashless fashion.

Walmart calls the facilitya technology lab that doubles as a live, retail club”—as well as “the future of retail.”

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