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story.lead_photo.caption This June 25, 2019, file photo shows the entrance to a Walmart location. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Walmart Inc. shoppers attempting to order groceries online still complain about the difficulty getting a time slot for pickup or delivery, even though the company recently added a third day to its scheduling window.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started keeping many shoppers at home, the Bentonville-based retailer has said limiting the time slots was best for customers. A Walmart spokeswoman said in a March 26 email that the time window for scheduling was shortened "to allow us to better serve our customers during this busy time."

"While the shorter window does fill up quickly," the spokeswoman said, "it helps ensure more items are in stock at the time the order is received."

Walmart did not respond to emailed requests sent over two days regarding any plans to go back to the longer time frame for scheduling pickups and deliveries.

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Meanwhile, Instacart Inc., the delivery service used by Walmart's members-only unit Sam's Club and the Springdale grocery chain Harps Food Stores Inc., said Wednesday that it has added features to its app to speed up delivery times and let customers place orders up to a week in advance.

Asda, Walmart's U.K. chain, also lets shoppers order up to seven days out. Asda recently added 300,000 slots per week throughout the 613-store chain, for a total of 700,000.

Still, Asda chief executive Roger Burnley said in an April 3 email to customers that "demand for delivery is still very high, and we recognize that not everyone will be able to get a slot."

Burnley asked that those who can safely shop in stores do so to leave the delivery slots open for people who are in quarantine or otherwise unable to leave their homes.

Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, echoed what U.S. shoppers are saying on social media channels -- that they have to get up at odd hours to grab a delivery slot.

"Retailers just weren't prepared for this radical shift in shopper behavior and Walmart is no exception," Spieckerman said.

The order overload requires employees to be available to fill the orders and make deliveries, she said. At the same time, workers have had to increase their vigilance around store traffic and cleanliness, she said.

"This combination of factors has store associates wearing many hats and customers growing more frustrated by the day," Spieckerman said.

The retailer said last month that it plans to hire 150,000 temporary full- and part-time workers to help handle both online orders and store traffic.

Recent shopper surveys show more people are shopping for groceries online for the first time because of the pandemic. A survey in mid-March by the Path to Purchase Institute found that 21% of respondents fell into that category, joining the 26% who said they already did so.

Likewise, an RBC Capital survey found that more than a third of shoppers who'd bought groceries online in the past month did so for the first time.

However, in a survey by market research firm CivicScience, nearly a third of online grocery shoppers reported having problems with recent orders.

Spieckerman said Walmart and other retailers need to develop clear communication strategies to keep their customers informed. "Once shoppers know what to expect, they are much more forgiving," she said.

"An endless cycle of constant uncertainty and disappointment serves no one," Spieckerman said. "And simply showing that delivery or pickup slots are not available at a particular time isn't specific enough to mitigate this perception."

Spieckerman said the same transparency should be applied to item availability. "If staples like toilet paper and hand sanitizer just aren't going to happen for delivery or pickup, Walmart should state that and tell shoppers to try in store at early hours," or whatever other scenario would likely be most successful.

"Walmart took the lead by building a convenience portfolio," Spieckerman said. "Shoppers now consider these capabilities to be part of Walmart's operating model rather than options that can be turned on and off without notice. Clear communication and transparency are needed if Walmart is to maintain credibility and loyalty on the other side of the pandemic."

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Boyle of Bloomberg News.

Business on 04/10/2020

Print Headline: Walmart still struggles with online orders

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