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Walmart wants its new service to become the personal shopping product consumers never knew they needed.
Jetblack, born out of Walmart’s Store No. 8 technology incubator, lets consumers text shopping requests to the Jetblack team and receive curated recommendations. From those recommendations, consumers can choose what they want and get same-day or next-day delivery on the items for no additional charge.
The service costs $50 a month and includes free returns and doesn’t require a minimum purchase amount. The service was tested in beta earlier this year and is now available to residents of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn (customers must join a wait list to try it out).
The new service’s co-founder and CEO is Jenny Fleiss, who’s also a co-founder of Rent the Runway. In order to get the right products to people, Jetblack wrote in a statement, the team will use “artificial intelligence practices” and expertise from buyers in several categories like home, parenting and fashion. The items will come from Walmart, Jet.com, local brands and shops as well as retailers like Saks, Bluemercury and Pottery Barn.
“With Jetblack, we have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalogue,” Fleiss said in a statement. “We are confident this service will make shopping frictionless, more personalized and delightful.”
While it’s yet another sign that Walmart is still ramping up its efforts to keep up in ecommerce, not everyone is convinced—Darren Herman, for instance, an operating partner at Bain Capital.
“To me, it feels that the value proposition for the historical Walmart customer feels a bit misplaced,” Herman said. “$600 a year for personal shopping and easy returns feels like it would be the wrong offer to the core customer of Walmart.”
Despite Walmart’s acquisitions of Bonobos, Modcloth and Jet.com, Herman said, this service “feels off [and] premature.”
Tien Tzuo, founder and CEO of Zuora, a subscription service software platform, thinks there’s a disconnect between Jetblack and Walmart, particularly when it comes to data. Tzuo isn’t sure Walmart can catch up to Amazon and Prime, where the company has so much information about the products consumers like to buy.
“I do wonder if Walmart has already lost the war and just doesn’t know it yet,” Tzuo said. “It’s hard to see how this really helps Walmart in the big picture [of ecommerce].”
However, Walmart’s step into conversational commerce is a step in the right direction, said Manlio Carrelli, evp, enterprise business group at LivePerson, a customer service company that was a part of Apple’s release of Business Chat.
“They’re just catching up to existing consumer behavior,” Carrelli said. “If you’re any big brand, you gotta figure out how to open [conversational commerce] up to your traditional customer base.”