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Walmart’s plan to get you in and out of stores faster

A Walmart store in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

NORTH BERGEN, N.J. — Walmart is making yet another bid to speed up its in-store shopping experience.

The big-box chain is creating express lanes in its pharmacy and money services areas, in which customers will be able to use new functions in the Walmart app as part of the transaction process. By allowing shoppers to do some things in the app instead of at the counter, and by letting them bypass the main queue, the theory is that customers should get in and out of the store more quickly.

This move dovetails with other efforts by the nation’s largest retailer to win over customers by making it less time-consuming to hit up a Walmart store — an urgent mission at a moment when online shopping is changing consumers’ definitions of convenience. This November and December, Walmart had a special team of so-called “holiday helpers” whose primary job was to keep lines moving quickly during the seasonal rush. The retailer is now testing “scan and go” capabilities, in which you could effectively ring up your own purchases with your smartphone and skip the checkout line altogether.

Long lines can be a particular frustration at Walmart’s money services counter, executives explained to reporters on Monday at a Walmart store in this New York suburb. On average, they said customers in the chain’s money services areas are waiting in line for 11 minutes. At peak times, such as around the 1st or the 15th of the month, when many people receive paychecks, waits can swell to 55 or even 70 minutes.

Speeding up a visit to the money services desk could have impact for a significant share of Walmart shoppers: Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart Services, said about one in five customers to that come into Walmart stores conduct some sort of money service transaction, including cashing a check, paying a bill, and so on.

In the new set-up, customers can input key information directly to the app before coming to the store. This eliminates a tedious in-store process in which they filled out paperwork by hand, only to stand by as a Walmart employee keyed all that information into a computer.

Similarly, in the pharmacy department, customers will be able to complete a transaction by coming to the counter, entering a PIN on their phones, and then using their phones to scan a code displayed at the register. The hope is that this shortened process alleviates a key customer pain point.

“The one thing we haven’t been solving as well as our customers want us to is time inside the pharmacy,” said Paul Beahm, senior vice president of Walmart health and wellness operations.

The express lanes in both pharmacy and money services departments will arrive in a limited number of stores in March and should be available in almost all of the chain’s 4,700 locations by fall.