At Walmart Canada's new Urban Supercentre concept store, store-in-store licensee logos receive prominent billing next to the store's main signageAt Walmart Canada's new Urban Supercentre concept store in Toronto, store-in-store licensee logos receive prominent billing next to the store's main signage

Walmart Canada has opened the first Canadian “Urban Supercentre” store in the Toronto Stockyards retail hub.

The 139,000 square foot, 300-employee store offers a number of new features, including the first application in Canada of Walmart’s “Fast Lane” checkout technology, full store integration with Walmart’s “My Walmart” mobile scan and go app, a redesigned grocery section and new store-in-store licensee partners.

A new look - and name - for the produce section. Photo Walmart CanadaA new look - and name - for the produce section. Photo Walmart Canada

The new concept store opened for business last week after 18 months of work. This week, Grocery Business and other Canadian media were on hand for a special guided tour of the store’s new features and redesigned look. Leading the tour were Walmart Canada president and CEO Lee Tappenden, Paula Bonner, senior VP of Format Development, VP of format strategy Alykhan Kanji and senior director, licensees, Sam Hamam.

Freshii's Paul Hughes, chief business development officer and general counsel, and Katie Rosenberg, director of food innovation, explain Freshii's store-in-store product offeringFreshii's Paul Hughes, chief business development officer and general counsel, and Katie Rosenberg, director of food innovation, explain Freshii's store-in-store product offering.

Freshii's service counter in the Grab & Go areaFreshii's service counter in the Grab & Go area

The four store-in-store licensees are fresh health food brand Freshii, The UPS Store, Japanese designer lifestyle brand Miniso and McDonald’s. Reps from all four were present for the guided tour. The licensees’ brand logos are also prominently displayed on the store exterior next to the Walmart signage.

The grocery section occupies about a third of the store’s total area and is the first section customers see upon entering the store. The former produce section has been renamed “Fresh Market” and given a new look with theatre lighting and wood paneling wall treatment.

Fast Lane checkout. Photo Walmart CanadaFast Lane checkout. Photo Walmart Canada

Shoppers use specially designed shopping carts equipped with hooks to hold bags open while shoppers place purchases in them (Walmart Canada has applied for a patent on the shopping cart design). As they move through the store, shoppers scan each purchase with the Walmart app on their mobile phone as they place the purchase in the shopping bags. When they’re ready to check out, they can opt for traditional full service checkout or enter the “Fast Lane.” Here they scan a barcode for their order that has been sent to their mobile phone. The order is charged to their credit card using data held on file, and the shopper shows the receipt on their phone to the Fast Lane associate before exiting the store. Contrary to what some might expect, Walmart Canada says it has actually added associates to help customers with Fast lane checkout.

Fast Lane checkout readerFast Lane checkout reader

As Alykhan Kanji explained, it’s much more efficient than repeatedly moving purchased goods from shelf to cart, from cart to checkout counter and then back to the cart. The process is also virtually paperless – all receipts and coupons are electronic.

“We’re really thinking about urban millennial families and what they need from their shopping experience,” said Paula Bonner. “We want them to be able to navigate quickly around the store, find what they need, and also have a new experience shopping the categories where you would browse more.”

“We’re on a journey around remodelling,” Tappenden said. “This year alone, we’ll invest about $200 million in store remodelling. Over the last five or so years we’ve invested about $1 billion in real estate in Canada. We see stores playing a very important role in our future, so having a nationwide footprint, coast to coast, of more than 400 stores, I think is a massive competitive advantage. It’s absolutely about combining online and offline, and this store is our best foot forward.”

Alykhan Kanji, VP of format strategy, explains the store's free mobile charging centre.Alykhan Kanji, VP of format strategy, explains the store's free mobile charging centre.

While the look and feel of the concept store are now standard, Tappenden said the licensee presence and the high level of technological innovation are unique to this location, and the company plans to evaluate the experience before moving forward. “We’ll look at all the elements – and I see a high likelihood that many of them will pop up in future remodels going forward,” he said. “And we’ll be moving very quickly, evaluating the Fast Lane experience in the next three to six months – and some of the licensees even before that.”

The 3000 sq. ft. Miniso store in storeThe 3000 sq. ft. Miniso store-in-store

The Stockyards Walmart store first opened in January 2005. Since then it has often served as a testbed for the launch of new concepts. It converted to a Supercentre format in 2010, and Walmart Canada now has 135 Supercentre format stores across the country.

A second Urban Supercentre is planned for Thornhill, Ont., next year.

All photos Grocery Business unless otherwise noted.

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