Ooltewah Walmart's new 'pickup tower' attracts more customers

Ooltewah Walmart's new 'pickup tower' attracts more customers

March 28th, 2018 by Allison Shirk in Business Around the Region

Neal Beeler, a store manager, describes how the new pickup tower at Walmart works on Wednesday, March 27, 2018 in Ooltewah, Tenn. Standing at 16 feet tall and eight feet around, the tower has shelves inside that hold up to 300 pieces of ordered merchandise.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

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Jessica Tyndall has four boys — ages 1 to 9 — so when she goes shopping she is looking for fast and convenient.

The Ooltewah mother said that is why she has used the new, so-called "pickup tower" at the Walmart Superstore in Ooltewah for the past few months. Through the Walmart app on her phone, Tyndall can select non- perishable items she wants to buy and pick them up that same day at the tower located inside the Walmart store next to the pharmacy.

Standing at 16 feet tall and 8 feet around, the tower has shelves inside that hold up to 300 pieces of ordered merchandise. The Walmart store is one of fewer than 100 of the retailer's 4,000 stores nationally and the first store in Tennessee to debut the new technology designed to let online shoppers pick up their orders faster.

On this day, Tyndall was picking up a new TV with her two youngest sons — Mason, 1, and Parker, 3.

"I used it a lot at Christmas," she said. "It's great and convenient. You can come in, get the item you bought and head out."

With the pickup tower, shoppers get an email with a bar code, and they can walk up to the tower located at the front of the store, scan the bar code and the item automatically comes out. Acting like a vending machine, the tower can fill the customer's order in less than a minute, the company says.

Since its "soft" launch in October, the tower averages about 80 orders a day, store manager Neal Beller said. It can handle up to 250 per day, though.

For those with larger orders, like Brian Merritt of Ooltewah, who was picking up two bikes for his children, staff is notified when they walk in the store and they can go retrieve it from the back.

The store also offers curbside pickup for groceries like other stores in the area, including Publix and Food City. Curbside pickup requires a $30 minimum purchase for Walmart grocery orders, but the pickup is free.

Typically, when someone orders general merchandise online from Walmart and wants to go to the store for pick up, they go to a counter, wait in line and then someone retrieves the item for them.

Beeler said the store did a soft launch of the tower in October, but since then they have worked out "a lot of bugs." The Ooltewah store is an "Academy" store, so they often get a lot of the new technology sooner than other stores around the country, he said.

In Beeler's opinion, it easily competes with other giant retailers for three reasons — free shipping on items not available in the store, the convenience of the tower being located at the front of the store and no membership fees.

"In my opinion, that's how we beat Amazon," he said.

To use the app, customers first download the Walmart app on their phone. Beeler said that from now until the end of April, first-time users of the tower get $5 off their purchase of $35 or more.

Right now, the tower is only available for use between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., but Beeler said the store is hoping to extend those hours in the future.

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at ashirk@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.


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