TECHNOLOGY

Walmart launches members-only, text-based personal shopping service

BY Marianne Wilson

Walmart is betting that some consumers—particularly busy parents—are willing to pay a monthly fee for the ability to shop (and receive product recommendations) via text messaging.

The discounter announced the official launch of Jetblack, a members-only personal shopping service that it described as combining “the convenience of eCommerce with the customized attention of a personal assistant.” The service is now available in limited release to customers in Manhattan and part of Brooklyn.

Jetblack is the first business to launch from Walmart’s technology incubator, Store No.8, where it previously operated under wraps as “Code 8.” It is led by Jenny Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway, who joined Walmart last year.

With the launch of Jetblack, Walmart has made its first foray into conversational commerce – or the ability to shop through text messaging, online chat or voice. The service lets members order everything from toiletries and household items, to toys and fashion with a text message. It will then find the right products and deliver them the same or next day for no additional charge.

“With Jetblack, we have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalogue,” said Fleiss, co-founder and CEO of Jetblack. “We are confident this service will make shopping frictionless, more personalized and delightful.”

Jetblack, which will cost members $50 per month, is targeted at more affluent shoppers, specifically busy urban parents. It includes access to personal shoppers who will offer members curated shopping recommendations (based on the member’s request) sent via text. (Other benefits include free wrapping and easy returns.)

In coming up with product recommenations, Jetblack uses a combination of artificial intelligence practices and expertise from professional buyers across the home, health, parenting, fashion and wellness categories, as well as parents themselves. While some everyday essentials may be sourced from Walmart and Jet.com, other items and specialty products are procured from local brands and specialty shop.

The idea for Jetblack was developed and refined within Store No 8, which was established by Marc Lore last year shortly after he was named president and CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce.

“Our e-cmmerce strategy has been focused on three elements: nailing the fundamentals, leveraging our unique strengths to play offense and innovating for the future,” said Lore. “Through Store No 8 and Jetblack, we’re able to build and test technology that can lay the foundation for capabilities we believe will have a profound impact on how customers may shop five years from now. Powered by conversational commerce, the future of retail will bring convenience and high-touch personalization to the forefront for consumers everywhere and I’m so excited to have Jenny lead the charge.”

Jetblack is not yet available to the general public, even in its opening markets. The website invites customers to join the “wait list.”

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