CHICAGO -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened its first Walmart Express store in Chicago Wednesday in the Chatham neighborhood, according to a Crain's Chicago Business report. The first of five planned stores in Chicago, the 10,000-square-foot store, one-tenth the size of most traditional Wal-Mart supercenters, gives a sense of what it's like to shop the world's most famous big-box retailer in a small-box setting. Often compared to a convenience store, Wal-Mart Express is essentially a compressed full-service grocery store, said the report.
Inside, where approximately two-thirds of the inventory is food items, two full aisles are devoted to meat and produce. Items include national brands and the company's own Parent's Choice private label.
The back of the store is lined with 47 freezer doors encasing dairy and frozen goods, plus a 10-door selection of chilled beverages, including beer, wine and liquor. (7-Eleven stores, in comparison, often have four to eight doors of beverages, said Crain's) The store is made for efficiency: The freezers back up to the chilled storage area, so workers can restock freezers from behind without wheeling carts through the narrow aisles.
Unlike Walgreen and CVS stores, Wal-Mart Express places its pharmacy in the front of the store, where generic prescriptions sell for $4 per 30-day supply and $10 per 90-day supply.
Next to the pharmacy is a "financial services desk" where customers can pay utility and other bills, cash checks (for a $3 fee) and load money onto prepaid Wal-Mart Visa debit cards, an option tailored for people without access to credit or bank accounts. The store debit card, which carries no overdraft fees, costs $3 to load up to $1,500 and can be used anywhere Visa is accepted.
The store concept is a "vehicle for entry into the 15 largest metro markets" in the country, Anthony Hucker, vice president for strategy and business development for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, told the publication.
Because the Chatham Express store is a test site, "we're listening to what customers want and changing accordingly. We have to be very precise because every square foot is precious."
The store employs between 20 and 40 people, culled from more than 650 local applicants, a spokesperson told Crain's.
The company plans four more Walmart Express stores for Chicago, along with three slightly larger Market stores and two supercenters, one of which will open next spring across the street from the Chatham Walmart Express.
Wal-Mart said last year that its new stores will create about 10,000 jobs in Chicago over the next four years.
The Chicago stores are appearing as Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart attempts to reverse two years of declining sales at existing U.S. discount stores. The company is trying to win back customers who are shopping more at chains such as Family Dollar Stores Inc. that pack a variety of food and basic goods into small shops.
"I think it's fair to say there's a multibillion-dollar growth opportunity in a lot of these cities, and Wal-Mart just hasn't had the right format to penetrate," Natalie Berg, global research director at London-based Planet Retail, told the publication.
The first two Walmart Express stores opened in Gentry and Prairie Grove, Arkansas; a third opened in Ridgefirld, N.C. The company reportedly plans as many as 350 stores..
(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage of Walmart Express.)
(Andclick here for a feature on Wal-Mart's "fill-in" strategy in the July issue of CSP magazine.)