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Under profit pressure, Walmart adding online grocery ordering, curbside pickup in Tampa

Walmart has announced that it will beging providing online ordering and curbside pickup at three Tampa Bay area locations. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images]
Walmart has announced that it will beging providing online ordering and curbside pickup at three Tampa Bay area locations. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images]
Published Oct. 16, 2015

Walmart plans to offer free online grocery shopping in Tampa and other Florida cities by the end of this month as part of a national push by the struggling retail giant to become more competitive in the emerging web-driven business of delivering food orders to busy customers.

This is not full-blown grocery delivery to the home, as some providers now offer, but curbside delivery at certain Walmart stores. Tampa area customers will now be able to shop for groceries on Walmart's website then pick up their order curbside, initially at select local stores. Walmart is ultimately counting on its extensive network of stores to attract nearby customers.

In addition to Tampa, Walmart said the service will be offered in this round of expansion in Florida in Orlando, Miami and Cape Coral, as well as in major cities in Texas and Oklahoma. Last month, Walmart rolled out online/curbside service in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and several cities in Arizona and Colorado.

The three Tampa Bay area stores in which online ordering curbside pickup is available are:

• Walmart Supercenter, 11110 Causeway Blvd., Brandon;

• Walmart Supercenter, 9205 Gibsonton Drive, Gibsonton;

• Walmart Supercenter, 6192 Gunn Highway, Tampa.

Customers can start shopping online today at walmart.com/grocery, but pickups can't be scheduled until Oct. 29 or later.

Will it work? Walmart's market share of Florida's grocery market is second only to that of Publix, so there are plenty of potential customers already buying food at Walmart stores. Perhaps belatedly, Walmart is dipping its toe into the online delivery service, organizing its online food ordering system and training its employees to fulfill customer food orders and deliver them for curbside pick-up in a timely manner.

Walmart will offer the service at no charge. Grocery chains or independent food delivery services currently charge a fee to bring orders directly to the customer's home.

The bigger question is whether curbside pick-up will have lasting appeal in a market that is starting to see increasing competition to provide online grocery shopping and delivery straight to the home of the customer.

Amazon, whose market value is now bigger even than Walmart, already is testing AmazonFresh delivery services in some markets. And its Amazon Prime members increasingly can order certain food products in markets like Tampa Bay with same-day delivery.

A third party grocery delivery service called Shipt recently said it was starting to provide home delivery of groceries in Tampa Bay from Publix stores. Publix itself does not currently offer grocery delivery to the home. Target is also testing a food delivery service in several markets but not in Florida.

"We are not walking away from delivery," Walmart e-commerce chief Michael Bender said last month when the giant retailer expanded its service to several new markets. "But right now the focus for us is pickup, driven largely by what our customers are telling us."

Here's how Walmart's system will work. Customers will shop and pay online, then set a pickup time at one of the initially selected Walmart locations. At a designated curbside spot, the customer will call a number, and a store associate (Walmart calls them "personal shoppers") will bring the order, kept cool or frozen in the back of the store, out to the car.

"With 70 percent of the U.S. population living within five miles of an existing Walmart store, this is an idea that simply makes sense for us," Bender wrote in a recent blog post.

The grocery delivery expansion to Tampa comes just as Walmart announced that it expects an unprecedented decline in its profits and sales to remain flat next year as it pours $2 billion into e-commerce over the next two years. The company also said it may shutter some of its massive U.S. stores and exit poor-performing markets overseas to help revive growth.

Some might call this a costly catch-up as Walmart scurries to keep up with Amazon, Target and other prominent online players.

The stock market on Wednesday drove Walmart stock down a stunning 10 percent on the news that the company is shifting its retail strategy to reflect rising online competition. On Thursday, Walmart stock fell another 1.2 percent for a combined loss to shareholders in the company's market value of more than $22 billion.

Who thought Walmart, the behemoth of retail for decades, could so quickly be tagged as a laggard? Here's how one headline on MarketWatch characterized the company's plight:

"Walmart may need a decade to get its 'mojo' back."

In an era of such disruptive retailing changes, there's no guarantee any company's "mojo" will return.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.