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Wal-Mart tests mini stores for holiday shopping season

The retailer opens two temporary 'pop-up' stores in Southern California aimed at steering shoppers to Walmart.com. They feature a curated assortment of toys and electronics and include laptops and tablets for ordering items directly from the website.

November 14, 2011|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times
  • The Walmart.com store at Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park is about 1,000 square feet and open through December.
The Walmart.com store at Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park is about… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

Discount giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is going mini for the holiday season.

The world's biggest retailer has opened two temporary Walmart.com shops in Southern California aimed at steering shoppers to its website.

The so-called pop-up stores feature a curated assortment of toys and electronics, many of which are for display only. Shoppers can browse the items, then order them directly from Wal-Mart's website on laptops and tablet computers provided on tables at each store.

"The goal was to give our local customers easier access to the range of products on Walmart.com," spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said. "It's not uncommon for us to test different formats and different offerings in different markets just to learn how customers respond."

One store, at the Westfield Topanga mall in Canoga Park, is about 1,000 square feet; the other is in downtown San Diego and measures 3,000 square feet. They're a fraction of the size of Wal-Mart Express stores (which average 15,000 square feet) or the behemoth Wal-Mart Supercenters (around 180,000 square feet).

Some items such as headphones and 3-D glasses can be purchased on the spot. But the tiny stores mostly enable consumers to try out products before ordering them, Lopez said.

The goal, he said, was to offer a "continuous experience" to customers, integrating the online and offline shopping processes. Customers who order products at Walmart.com can opt for home delivery or for pickup later at a local Wal-Mart store.

At the Westfield Topanga mall one recent day, curious shoppers stopped and gawked at the WalMart.com store, which had nothing big box about it. Its glass walls and minimalist white furniture brought to mind the clean design of an Apple store.

Shopper Arash Ehsanian, 35, sat in a curvy chair inside and browsed for headphones online. The Los Angeles resident, who almost never shops at Wal-Mart, said the concept of testing out a gadget in person before buying online was appealing.

"It's good to be able to check out devices, and maybe this way, I will order something from Wal-Mart when I never would have before," Ehsanian said.

Other shoppers, including Marisol Hernandez of Los Angeles, were unimpressed.

"I thought it was ridiculous," said the 21-year-old college student, who had briefly ducked inside the store to satisfy her curiosity. "They have huge Wal-Mart stores everywhere, and now they're in malls too. That's just too much."

The company does not plan to open additional pop-up stores this season, Lopez said. The two stores are scheduled to close at the end of December.

shan.li@latimes.com

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