Walmart Expanding Wireless, Appliance Store Tests

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Bentonville, Ark. - Walmart plans to expand its tests of specialty mobile and appliance stores within its discount supercenters.

The Walmart Wireless shops, located near the checkout counters in 200 flagship stores, are about 2,000 square feet in size and carry a select assortment of smartphones, cellphones and pre-, post-paid and hybrid service plans.

The in-house pilot was launched last fall and will be extended to 150 locations later this year.

Gary Severson, home entertainment senior VP for Walmart U.S., said the specialty stores provide customers with more privacy and a better experience, and that initial results have been "very positive." Unlike other freestanding spin-offs in the marketplace, the wireless shops were located within the parent chain - alongside eyeglass, banking and other front-of-the-store services - due to the high-volume of traffic that Walmart stores draw, he said.

The majap stores, dubbed The Appliance Market at Walmart, are currently being tested in three Texas locations and will roll out to some 20 superstores within the Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth markets by next month.

The stores carry between 50 and 80 good-better-best GE refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, ranges and laundry pairs under the manufacturer's Hotpoint, GE and GE Profile brands, Walmart told TWICE. The retailer will carry no inventory, and all fulfillment will be handled by GE.

The front-of-the-store shops are owned by Walmart but will be staffed by Flexi Compras, a Southwestern CE, appliance, furniture and auto chain that will also provide lease-to-own and other flexible payment plans. Customers can also choose from nearly 900 hundred additional SKUs through a catalog. All deliveries are free, although installation and haul-away services are extra for all but lease-to-own purchases.

The pilot represents the second appliance foray for Walmart and GE, which first trialed a front-of-the-store program in 2000. The current effort differs in its trained sales associates and flexible payment options for cash-poor customers with low or no credit, a Walmart spokesman told TWICE. The chain has not yet determined whether it will add other manufacturers' brands to the assortment, he said.

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