Walmart Expands $50-a-Month Concierge Service to Brooklyn

(Bloomberg) -

Walmart wants to be your personal shopper — if you’re lucky enough to be invited.

The world’s biggest retailer on Thursday unveiled Jetblack, a concierge shopping service for busy urban families. For $50 a month, members can text their requests and receive same-day delivery from Walmart, Jet and other retailers like Saks and Sephora with gift wrapping included. The service — available by invitation only — has been piloted for the past eight months in Manhattan doorman buildings and will expand to parts of Brooklyn and non-doorman dwellings in the weeks ahead, the company said in a presentation in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Jetblack, the first business to emerge from Walmart’s Store No. 8 technology incubator, is headed by Jenny Fleiss, who co-founded Rent the Runway before joining Walmart last year to develop personalized shopping services. It comes as Walmart is upgrading its online operations to compete with Amazon through a redesigned website, hundreds of additional curbside grocery pickup locations and upscale brands like ModCloth and Moosejaw.

“I don’t know if it will work, but I know it’s a good idea,” said Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University. “No traditional retailer has done a better job than Walmart of grabbing the mic back from Amazon.”

Shoppers text their requests to Jetblack, which uses a combination of automated bots and actual humans to recommend, for example, a selection of gift ideas for a child’s birthday party. Responses usually take five to ten minutes. The shopper picks the desired item, which is then typically delivered the same day via third-party couriers. Fresh food is not part of the offering.

New Jetblack customers get a 10-minute phone call from the service to help determine their brand loyalties and frequently-ordered items. It also checks if children in the family have allergies.

“I don’t know that the market opportunity is big enough that it would be impactful for a company that has $500 billion in sales already,” Sucharita Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research, said. “But it’s a great experiment.”