New Texas Supercenter Shows Wal-Mart's Shopper-Friendly Side

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart's third test supercenter opened yesterday in Plano, Texas, but rather than focusing on the earth's environment, as do the first two experimental supercenters in McKinney, Texas and Aurora, Colo., this one focuses sharply on the competitive retail environment, breaking much new ground for the traditional mega-discounter of basics.

The new format features a layout, merchandise selection, and range of services unlike any other Wal-Mart store. Its location in a highly competitive retail corridor makes the new supercenter ideal for testing store features and strategies to enhance the customer shopping experience, said Wal-Mart officials.

"With the opening of this store, Wal-Mart is adopting an active approach to understanding and meeting customer needs, particularly those of the selective female shopper," said John Fleming, e.v.p. and c.m.o. "This store will function as an active laboratory for testing a range of new ideas and merchandise in a fully operational setting. If something doesn't work, we will change it and try something else. And when an innovation resonates with our customers, we will consider introducing it in other stores."

It chose Plano because, in addition to the tough competition found in the city, consumers there are also more discerning. "For something to work in Plano, it has to be good," said Wal-Mart regional general manager John Murphy. "I can't think of a better marketplace in which to test our most innovative thinking."

"We have a long history of piloting new ideas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area," Murphy added. "We opened our first 24-hour pharmacies here, we ran the pilot of our site-to-store delivery service here, and we have tested many other innovations that were later introduced in stores around the country. We also opened our first experimental environmental supercenter in McKinney, about 20 miles north of the newest Plano store. We value our relationship with these communities, and we've been very attentive to opening stores that are a good fit architecturally and offer the shopping experience that our customers expect."

The unique features of the new Plano supercenter are a direct response to the shopping preferences of female customers, who make the majority of purchases in supercenters. These features include:

-- A store layout that positions departments in a way that female customers said made sense for them. For example, consumables, pet food, and health and beauty aids are adjacent to grocery.

-- New signage and graphics that give each of the store's eight principal areas -- home, apparel, health, beauty, food, do-it-yourself, electronics, and baby -- its own character, to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.

-- A significantly expanded and diversified grocery selection, with more than 2,000 premium items in wine, dry grocery, meat, cheese, and produce that are new to Wal-Mart Supercenters.

-- A wine section with 1,200 different selections, including more than 700 premium items specific to this store.

-- An increased selection of gourmet cheeses.

-- Made-to-order sandwiches, hot panini sandwiches, and hot pizza.

-- Expanded organic and natural offerings with nearly 500 items added to the produce, deli, bakery, meat, seafood, dairy, and frozen departments.

-- A fresh sushi bar and a spacious, trendy, Wi-Fi-enabled coffee shop.

-- A quieter shopping experience with fewer PA announcements, no in-store radio, directional Wal-Mart TV confined to distinct areas of the store and quieter cash registers.

-- A redesigned apparel area with its own cash registers, more space around displays and racks, and a fitting area that offers more privacy and convenience. Customers will carry most of their apparel purchases out of the store on hangers.

-- A site-to-store section where customers can pick up most purchases without a shipping charge.

-- A streamlined checkout area, including new cash registers, to help customers check out more quickly.
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