Hands on with Walmart’s new (but buggy) ‘Text to Shop’ feature
Walmart recently introduced a new way to shop: through text messages. Last month, the retail giant launched its “Text to Shop” experience that allows mobile consumers on iOS and Android devices to text Walmart the items they want to buy at their local stores or on Walmart.com, or Easily reorder items for pickup, delivery, or shipping. However, the chat experience as it is today doesn’t feel as complete, based on our tests. The chatbot said confusing things, and the user interface was sometimes difficult to navigate, even though it was intended to be a simpler text-based shopping experience.
Conversational commerce, or shopping through text messages, is an area that has seen increased investment in recent years with numerous new companies entering the market. Walmart also has connections to this space, as its former head of US e-commerce, Marc Lore, backed a conversational commerce startup, Wizard. And Walmart itself acquired assets from a design tool called Botmock that had created technology that allowed companies to design, prototype, test, and deploy conversational commerce applications.
Meanwhile, the new “Text to Shop” feature was built in-house using internal IP in partnership with Walmart’s global technology team and tested with customers prior to launch. The beta version was available for about a year prior to the December public debut, but had only been accessible by invitation.
At launch, the “Text to Shop” feature allows customers to shop Walmart’s entire assortment via chat, whether it’s their weekly grocery order from a nearby store or an e-commerce order you want shipped to your home.
More recently, customers began receiving emails alerting them that “Text to Shop” was recently available, which prompted our testing. The feature was also highlighted in Apple’s announcement of its new Apple Business Connect dashboard , which allows businesses to manage and update their information in Apple Maps. Here, Walmart has partnered with Apple so that customers who visit the Walmart business listing card on Apple Maps can tap the “message us” button to get started with a “Text to Shop” session.
In theory, chat-based shopping is supposed to simplify online shopping by bringing it to a more familiar text messaging interface. But in practice, the Walmart chatbot made a few missteps when we tested it, resulting in a more cumbersome experience compared to a traditional order placed through the Walmart website or app.
However, the initial steps to get started with “Text to Shop” were easy as you simply log into your Walmart account and agree to their terms. The bot then sends you a helpful introduction and some tips on how the system works. It tells you that you can type in the names of the items you want, like “Great Value Oatmeal,” and explains how to set up your local store, among other things.
But it was already clear that the system would have some quirks, since it informed you that the items you typed in single quotes would serve as commands.
For example, typing ‘Reorder’ in quotes would allow you to buy things again. This seemed like an odd requirement, since the word “reorder” probably wouldn’t match a product a customer wanted to buy via text-based shopping, or at least, a text with that word should be assumed to be a command. In addition, it places an unnecessary burden on the end user at a time when they have just started trying to learn a new system.
In my tests, I ordered a few basic items, including milk, eggs, bread, and water. The system did not immediately alert me that I had backordered items in my cart from an online order that I had abandoned weeks ago.
The system also doesn’t ask you in your first text message to choose whether you want to start an order for delivery, pickup, or shipping. Instead, it returns a selection of options that match your request. But the way he did it was confusing.
In my test, I typed “2% milk” and it responded twice with possible options. “OKAY! 2% milk, 3 options going down,” the bot said, followed by a link that takes it to a list. But then he responded again, “These are the closest options I found for 2% milk,” and offered another list.
After choosing an item, you’re prompted to “select one of these options below,” which offers options like “find pickup,” “find shipping,” or “find delivery.”
It would seem that asking the customer how they were shopping should have been the first step, especially if product availability varies by order type. In this test, I chose delivery.
That’s when the bot texted me that I now had 6 things in my cart, a surprise as I hadn’t remembered my previous abandoned choices.
However, that was in me, I admitted. I tapped “View Cart” to remove selections from weeks ago. The bot did not immediately display the cart. Instead, it responds with the count and total items. You then need to tap on a link that follows to view the cart, which appears on another screen. I was expecting this to work like a web version of a Walmart checkout page, the screen lacked obvious tools for removing items or changing quantities, which you would normally find on an ecommerce shopping cart page.
In fact, the interface tells you to “tap to view, select, or delete,” but presents radio buttons for tapping, and then a “Submit” button at the bottom for… well, I don’t know.
How would he know if I was instructing him to show me the item or remove it, I wondered. And why would I need to see the item anywhere else, when its full name, photo, quantity, and price are displayed here?
Still, I tapped “Submit” to remove the old items (which weren’t the newly added milk), only to return to the main chat screen where I was incorrectly informed, “Ok, all the milk is out! » Now my cart had 5 things, she said. I had only removed one of my selections.
I tried again, tapping the other 5 items to remove them, and again, the bot responded, “Ok, all the milk was pumped out!”
Actually, the milk was all that was left. The robot was wrong.
Now, with only milk left (despite texts to the contrary), the bot asked me what I wanted to do next, maybe check out the cart or pay?
This is a very dumb bot, I thought. Does anyone receive only milk and nothing else?
I wasn’t ready for that, so I tried another query. Eggs, I wrote. The bot only returned three options: all Walmart-branded large white eggs but in different sizes. Strange, since I know that Walmart, like most retailers, has a much larger selection of eggs.
“Organic eggs”, I texted her, hoping for better egg options. This worked, and I added Pete and Gerry’s eggs to the cart with no problem. The bot now updated me on my total. My cart had two items, milk and eggs, and my subtotal was $10.40. (I’m not sure it’s a good idea to tell the customer the current price if they don’t ask! Yikes!)
Then I tried something to intentionally confuse the system. Knowing that end users often don’t follow the script, I scrolled up to tap “Pickup” instead of “Delivery.” This is the sort of thing a customer might do if they think choosing takeout would offer them a different selection of eggs. But the bot didn’t take that logical leap and asked “sure, what product would you like to search for to pick it up?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I texted him. “No problem. Talk to you later,” the bot replied.
I then went to add the next item on my list. “La Croix”, I texted him.
“These are the closest options I found for organic de la croix eggs to pick up,” the robot replied. oh? What?
I had clearly confused this bot quite a bit, it seems.
He texts me a list to view and asks me to select the delivery method, and then texts me the list again. It only returned three La Croix options to choose from. However, a search on the Walmart app turned up 10.
This system is apparently not useful at all, unless you enter a very specific option.
That realization made me dread my next item: bread. I didn’t have a brand in mind as I usually browse and look for deals on favorite types and brands. I ask for “multigrain bread” and am only shown three options along with another message telling me I can “find pickup” or “shipping.” Now I understand that these delivery options are apparently sent via text every time you order an item, rather than the system creating a cart for a particular delivery method. (I didn’t touch these options because I was going to receive the items).
“Pay”, then I sent a text message, without the single quotes, just as a common user would, having forgotten the previous command syntax involving the use of quotes.
And it worked. You can then select to view cart or checkout, and through a separate screen, you can reserve a delivery time. So you didn’t need the quotes?
However, there were other weird UI options here as well.
For example, this screen presented you with an option to change the “quantity” of the selected items, when previously that was not possible. I hit the “Change Quantity” button (since I’m rethinking those expensive eggs now!). This sent an automated command, to which the system responded “Can you rephrase that?”
I’m wondering if some of the problems with the bot are because it didn’t know about my local store, somehow, even though this is already set up in my Walmart account, which I had authenticated with to begin with.
“Set store” I wrote, even using the single quote format.
The bot told me to choose my location and sent me a text with two options. Both were my home address, without the house number. Both were identical options.
At this point, it seemed like the process of ordering a few basic things had become an ordeal and had taken much longer than the traditional method of searching the Walmart app and adding things to the cart. If conversational commerce like this is the future, I’d say it’s still a work in progress.
I abandoned the cart and did not complete the order.
When I asked Walmart about some of the issues I found, wondering if this was all still a beta test, a spokesperson said the company “will continue to refine and optimize Text to Shop to ensure we provide the best possible experience for our customers.” .”