Wal-Mart shoppers can leave their wallets at home

Source: Walmart

Wal-Mart shoppers no longer need to carry their wallets to check out at one of its 4,600-plus U.S. stores.

The world's largest retailer on Wednesday announced that it has completed the nationwide rollout of its Walmart Pay system, which it began testing in December as an add-on to its mobile app.

After slowly rolling out the feature to stores in its test markets, the company in May did its first scaled launch at 750 locations. It completed the rollout last week.

To use the three-step payment system, shoppers link their chosen payment method to their account, open the camera on their smartphone and snap a photo of a QR code at the register. That notifies the app to process the customer's payment.

Shoppers can link their credit or debit cards, prepaid accounts or Wal-Mart gift cards to their payments; however, they still cannot use Apple Pay. When it was introduced in December, the retailer's executives said Walmart Pay was built so that Apple Pay or a similar system could be integrated in the future. But it also said there were no immediate plans to do so.

In a call with the media Wednesday, Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Wal-Mart U.S., said that the company can't speak to any progress on negotiations with third-party wallets. But discussions are ongoing, he said.

The company declined to share data on how many users have tested the payment solution so far, saying it's too early to do so. And while it hopes Walmart Pay will persuade new shoppers to download its app, it's also too early to tell if that is happening in earnest, Eckert said.

Wal-Mart did say that upon completion of the system's rollout last week, the number of transactions completed through Walmart Pay has increased 45 percent compared with the week prior. Of all transactions on the platform, 88 percent are coming from repeat users.

Now that the payment system has been rolled out nationwide, Wal-Mart will put more muscle behind marketing the service to shoppers across the U.S.

"We want to make every day easier for busy families," Eckert said.

Wal-Mart is a front-runner in the world of digital shopping apps, particularly among bricks-and-mortar players. In March, it ranked behind only Amazon and eBay for the number of unique visitors to its mobile website and app, according to the latest comScore data. Roughly 68 million people visited one or both of these platforms during that month, compared with 70 million for eBay and 143 million for Amazon. Of those 68 million people, roughly 40 percent used Wal-Mart's app.

Overall use of the company's mobile app has skyrocketed over the past two years, thanks in large part to the introduction of Savings Catcher. That feature, which launched during summer 2014, allows shoppers to scan a bar code on their receipt so they can compare prices at Wal-Mart's competitors. The retailer then gives them back any difference on a Wal-Mart gift card. The number of unique visitors to Wal-Mart's mobile app shot 595 percent higher over the two-year period ended in March, to 26.1 million.

"It really speaks to how people use mobile apps," said Andrew Lipsman, vice president of marketing and insights at comScore.

He explained that shoppers are more willing to download apps, which can quickly crowd their home screens, when they're given a reason to use them regularly.

"I've never seen an app ... grow like that," he said.

So far this year, 1.81 million people have downloaded Wal-Mart's app on Apple's iOs system, making it the ninth most popular shopping app, according to Sensor Tower, an app marketing intelligence firm. Since November 2015, 3.35 million iOs users have downloaded Wal-Mart's app, scoring seventh. Amazon leads in both of those metrics, with 6.8 million and 10.55 million downloads, respectively.

Wal-Mart's digital sales expansion has recently decelerated, as Amazon continues to thrive. Yet Walmart Pay is one example of how a traditional retailer can leverage its stores to bring together digital and physical shopping in a way that an online-only player cannot.

Still, though sales from smartphones are increasing, they haven't taken off in the way many had expected. U.S. mobile payments accounted for an estimated $67 billion in 2015, and are expected to grow 24 percent, to $83 billion, this year, according to the latest data from Forrester Research.

Customers have been particularly hesitant to pay with these devices when they're in a physical store. In-person payments are expected to account for just $6.8 billion when 2015's data are finalized, according to Forrester.