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ASDA Virtual Store Might Really Translate to Wal-Mart U.S., Canada

ASDA, the Wal-Mart division operating in the United Kingdom, is getting set to develop a showcase store to drive Internet sales, an experiment to watch because the company likes to expand British successes to Canada and the United States.

Such a showcase could build upon the idea of adding Internet kiosks to stores, one retailers have been employing to encourage purchasing from their expanded online selections by consumers who can't or haven't begun to shop their websites from home.

According to the Financial Times, the showcase is planned for the Yorkshire town of Morley. Although the newspaper refers to it as a virtual store, it's not quite that. Rather, it's a store without checkouts, one designed to encourage customers to make online choices beyond what they purchase on their regular shopping trips. ASDA stores are, for the most part, supermarkets with extra general merchandise offerings. The showcase store, which will open next to a standard unit, could highlight the additional products ASDA offers in its online operation, particular in categories such as apparel where its smaller stores can't provide selection, as well as blown out assortments of seasonal merchandise. The store would be open until 10 p.m. and deliver goods ordered the next day.

ASDA has been playing catch up with U.K. retail leader Tesco for years, and lately doing so successfully. The Financial Times noted that Tesco has been operating a virtual store in the town of Croyden that is similar to the concept ASDA now wants to explore. The newspaper also pointed out that ASDA home shopping sales gained 50 percent in the latest quarter.

In Wal-Mart's first quarter conference call, Doug McMillon, CEO of international operations, said ASDA's overall market share rose about 0.3 percentage points in the 12 weeks ended April 19. It reached 12 percent as British consumers turned to the chain's bargains during the recession â€" as their American counterparts have turned to Wal-Mart -- particularly in food. Tesco's share has been slipping lately.

Wal-Mart looks at the English-speaking North Atlantic as a continuity. When the ASDA-developed George apparel brand became successful in the U.K., Wal-Mart tested it in Canada, where it also did well. At that point, a full-on trial began in the U.S. George hasn't been quite the performer in the United States that it was in the U.K. and Canada, but it became a substantial part of Wal-Mart's apparel line up in the States after it was introduced early in the decade.

So, its plausible that Wal-Mart might transfer the British showcase store concept from the U.K. if it proves successful, probably to Canada first then to the United States. A recent study demonstrated that Wal-Mart's brand and stores help drive online shopping. Showcase kiosks combined with other Wal-Mart conveniences, particularly its free direct-to-store delivery service, just might entice more purchasing from consumers who, up until now, couldn't shop its website or simply haven't.

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