Walmart announced its $50-a-month, invitation-only Jetblack shopping service to consumers in Manhattan and (part of) Brooklyn back in May, and said it would be under the helm of Rent the Runway founder Jennifer Fleiss.
However, details have been sparse, until now. At Recode’s Code Commerce event last week, Fleiss shared new details about the text-to-shop service and Walmart’s plans for conversational commerce.
Members can text “nearly any shopping request,” and Jetblack will find and deliver it by the following day.
The service uses artificial intelligence and professional buyers in categories like home, health, parenting, fashion and wellness, as well as feedback from members themselves. Products are sourced from Walmart, Jet.com and local stores—and Fleiss said the emphasis is on getting products to members in a timely manner, as no one really cares where their paper towels come from. Examples of requests include beauty cream, custom Easter baskets and products for a day at the beach.
Fleiss said she knew nothing about logistics when she founded Rent the Runway. That is how she came to know logistics wunderkind Marc Lore, who is president and CEO of Walmart U.S. ecommerce, but formerly the founder of Jet.com, which Walmart bought for $3 billion in 2016, and Quidsi, the parent company of ecommerce sites like Diapers.com, Soap.com and Wag.com that Amazon bought for $545 million in 2010. (Amazon shuttered Quidsi and its sites in 2017.)
After Lore joined Walmart, Fleiss said he reached out with a new opportunity to “reinvent shopping.”
That’s because Fleiss said shopping has become a chore for many consumers.
“People have been settling for an experience that was fine,” she said. “But what makes retail delightful?”
Her answer: a personalized experience with knowledgeable sales staff. And, she noted, technology is getting good enough to scale these conversations.
Jetblack 1.0 is focused on text messaging because it is an easy, familiar medium, she said. Members text a need and the service responds with product suggestions or additional questions to narrow the field. She compared it to the game Guess Who, in which players try to use the fewest questions possible.
“Jetblack lets you have a conversation,” she said.
The service is adding bots wherever possible, but Fleiss said they don’t want to compromise the experience, which should be like chatting with a good friend. (And she said it will be five years before they’re able to use machine learning in a meaningful way.)
The membership process starts with a 10-minute phone call in which Jetblack asks questions like whether a potential member has children, whether they own a second home, what brands they like, how they feel about organic products and how often they restock their homes. Jetblack also offers in-home scanning appointments in which representatives take note of whatever products a member has on hand in whatever rooms they choose so Jetblack better understands their existing product set.
She would not disclose membership figures, but said it is “more than three” and they are working through a long wait list.
And, she said, members are dropping other shopping behaviors in favor of Jetblack—and ordering over 10 items per week.
The mission of the service is to give members more time—which is why it picks up returns for free. Most Jetblack members live in buildings with doormen, so it’s easy for, say, a time-strapped New York mom like Fleiss herself to order multiple pairs of kids’ shoes and simply leave the ones that don’t work downstairs.