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11/01/2021

Walmart pilots mobile solutions in effort to reinvent shopping bags

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Walmart is testing plastic bag alternatives including mobile solutions.

Walmart is going high-tech as it continues exploring ways to phase out plastic shopping bags.

The discount giant, which has been collaborating with retailers including CVS and Target since early 2020 to develop innovative alternatives to the traditional, single-use plastic bag, has been testing several concepts, including some that incorporate mobile technology.

A store in Mountain View, Calif., recently piloted a mobile app-enabled solution called GOATOTE. The GOATOTE system enables customers use an app to “check out” reusable bags. The bags are totally free if returned to the store within 30 days. If they decide to keep their bag, customers will be charged $2. Store managers reported the pilot was a success, with positive customer response.

A Walmart store in Santa Clara, Calif. piloted a solution called Fill It Forward, a mobile app and tag that connects to a reusable bag customers already own. With each use, customers accumulate points, which convert to a dollar amount that goes back to a local organization. The pilot donated funds to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley.

Walmart reported that the Fill It Forward pilot caused a 31% increase in adoption of reusable bags during its run. And he and his associates learned something important.

“Looking forward, this is all about iterating,” said Anish Hazari, principal project manager for Walmart Next Gen. Stores. “Of course, we want to reach that total goal of being sustainable, and you want to be successful as you do it. But what happens moving toward that success is every time you develop and prototype a new solution, you’re getting closer and closer to that overall goal — and sometimes you may not even realize it.”

Walmart has also been testing the complete removal of plastic bags from stores in New England. After a pilot in Vermont, Walmart stores in the state have gone bagless, transitioning entirely to reusable bags.

Meanwhile in Maine, the retailer has also launched a bagless pilot. According to Walmart, store associates and customers have provided consistent feedback that they are ready to make a change away from plastic shopping bags.

“By choosing to go bagless in Maine and Vermont, we’re learning a lot that we can share with other regions,” Jane Ewing, senior VP, sustainability, Walmart, said in a corporate blog post.And though these transitions come with a learning curve for customers and associates, they’ve also shown that Walmart customers have a deep desire to do the right thing by our planet, and our collective future.

“We realize that reinventing the retail bag won’t be an easy or immediate process,” said Ewing. “But we’re encouraged by our progress in these markets, and by the innovative solutions entrepreneurs continue to offer. Key learnings from these efforts will inform our future bagless efforts. We’ll keep working to do our part to serve the customer while moving toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.”