The revamped audio was featured during a tour of a Walmart store in Elm Springs, Arkansas, one of the retailer's showcase locations, last week during Walmart’s Shareholders and Associates Week. The new audio offering being beta tested at the store was clearly audible, certainly unskippable and sounded very much like a conventional FM drivetime show, with Coca-Cola Co. and T-Mobile as initial advertisers. Walmart associates can make requests or do shoutouts by calling a phone number or posting on @WalmartWorld social channels.
Radio isn’t new at Walmart, even if selling ads into it is. Walmart Radio started in the early 1990s and evolved to include regular news segments, live shows and popular music. The current version includes full-time DJs who are Walmart associates chosen in part through video entries in a nationwide search, broadcasting live shows and music.
Overcoming past miscues
The idea is to create in-store advertising that works better for advertisers, in part because it doesn’t annoy employees or shoppers.
In an interview, Whitney Cooper, head of omnichannel transformation and commercialization for Walmart Connect, acknowledged the repetitive nature of Walmart Radio in the past sometimes drove employees a little crazy and that a prior generation of Walmart TV, which embedded screens in endcap displays, didn’t get much customer attention or traction with suppliers. Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart now has a TV wall with more conventional supplier ads running on screens in its electronics department.
“We’re really being careful about the customer experience,” said Ryan Mayward, senior VP of retail media sales at Walmart Connect.
One supplier representative based in Northwest Arkansas, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, gave the new iteration of Walmart Radio high marks for improving on what existed. But he remains skeptical about ads on it, noting that the radio may be missed by moms focused on wrangling kids through stores or people listening to their own audio with earbuds.
That level of distraction, though, may not be far from what people experience listening to the radio while driving. The goal for Walmart Radio is to create a far-reaching awareness-building option, rather than immediately driving in-store sales. Cooper believes non-endemic advertisers (those that don’t have brands on sale in stores) could become interested. She said some political campaigns already have inquired, but added, “that’s a hard no.”
Related: A guide to retail media networks
Integrating sampling and digital
While Walmart has long had sampling programs in stores, it’s also testing ways of operating them in-house and integrating them into digital campaigns. It’s starting with a pilot now in 120 stores each weekend, with a target of hitting 1,000 by year-end. Among ways the retailer is looking to bridge the physical and digital is by putting prominent QR codes alongside in-store demo carts, linking back to product pages where people can assemble items on display from different departments in their online carts. Some of the joint displays are brand-specific while others are built around seasonal concepts, such as summer grilling.
Walmart is also integrating sampling into e-commerce delivery, building a program that offers sample bags with some pickup or delivery orders. Those samples can be targeted to stores, regions or shoppers based on advertiser needs.
One difference between Walmart’s in-store media and conventional media, even when it does focus more on awareness building than immediate sales, as in the case of radio, is that ads can be targeted and performance tracked based on store sales.
“We want to bring everything we know about advertisers’ sales volume at the store level across the country to bear on the media buy,” Mayward said. “So it doesn’t have to be always on all the time at every store, but there may be some stores where you need to shore up sales, and we’re going to bring a digital media approach to finding those stores and creating an activation.”