Jetblack, Walmart's new personal shopping service.

Need it. Text it. Get it. Welcome to Jetblack, Walmart Inc.’s conversational commerce business.

Jetblack, Walmart’s first incubated company, has been operating in beta format for eight months under the stealth name Code Eight. The operation is headed by Jennifer Fleiss, who cofounded Rent the Runway.

The basic premise of “need it, text it, get it” is simple, and it all starts with a conversation on one’s smartphone.

According to Fleiss, “Conversational commerce has been around for a long time. You go to a store and talk with the salesperson, who may make some recommendations. The concept is now scalable over technology. We aim to make life as easy and efficient as possible for our customers.”

Fleiss cofounded the service with Jet.com founder Marc Lore. The two know each other from the start-up world. When Lore began thinking more about a conversational commerce service, he reached out to Fleiss regarding working on the concept, she said. Fleiss added that her expertise is focused more on the execution of a business model, and that the Jetblack operation is separate from Jet.com, even though the businesses share the word Jet in their names.

For Fleiss, the ideal customer for the personal shopping service is a mom with young kids. “I have three kids. I also have ‘to do’ lists. This service helps me with my genuine needs.”

Fleiss said she’s been “talking to thousands of moms about all the pain points in shopping. The text messaging format keeps all my wants in one place.”

The platform uses artificial intelligence, and over time the AI technology will learn from information stored from past orders to better meet consumers’ needs.

Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, senior vice president for consumer strategy and innovation at Allergan, is a founding member of the service and has been testing it during its beta trial. She sees the service as a luxury because it helps the multitasking mom — the serial entrepreneur is a mom who also cofounded Gilt Groupe and is in the midst of building three digital beauty start-ups — free up some time during her day.

Wilkis Wilson also said Jetblack earlier this month sent someone to her home to take notes on her brand preferences. So when she texts that a pantry or laundry item is needed, Jetblack will already know what brand she prefers.

But Wilkis Wilson and Fleiss also disclosed something else about their shopping habits after they started to use the Jetblack service — they used to shop on Amazon.com, but no more.

Both said the new service is easier for them because they don’t have to spend time searching on the market platform to find an item they want or review previous orders to click and reorder what they’re bought before.

The wants can be fairly broad, with consumers having the option of relying on Jetblack’s concierge service for the search and hunt component to meet a need, or at least provide alternate suggestions when the exact item can’t be found. Fleiss spoke about one user who sent in a photo of a tea kettle needing to be replaced, but couldn’t remember the brand or where she got it. Within a short time, the service replied via text message with a photo of the kettle, where it can be bought and for how much, as well as a query on whether the shopper wanted to add it to her cart.

Text messages can include photos. So a text message chain one might begin as follows:

  • 8:30 a.m.: J — have event tomorrow night. need dress to go with these shoes (photo of shoes attached).
  • 9:15 a.m.: need paper towels.
  • 9:50 a.m.: wee wee pads for dog.
  • 10:00 a.m.: buy potato chips.
  • 11:30 a.m.: J — birthday gift for girl, age 9, under $25. likes crafts. need you to wrap.

 

The Jetblack app on a smartphone.  Courtesy Photo

 

According to Fleiss, the service is currently just in Manhattan. Plans are in place to expand the service to other New York boroughs, beginning later this summer, with plans to enter new markets over time throughout the U.S. The membership fee is $50 a month, which includes unlimited delivery.

Shipping is fast, typically next-day service, although orders placed earlier in the day can be aggregated so courier service providers can provide same-day delivery. Items can be sourced from anywhere, although use of the Jet.com or Walmart.com platforms can speed up the fulfillment and delivery process. And items that require concierge service, such as the dress find or gift request, will result in Jetblack text messaging back for purchase approval before it is put in one’s cart. Requests such as gift wrapping or delivery of an assembled item are complimentary. Further, wrapped gifts can also be delivered to the recipient’s home.

One example Fleiss gave on how the platform can be used involved a recent ski vacation. She didn’t want to pack ski gear, and the kids needed snacks during their stay, so Fleiss told the service what she needed and the gear and snacks were delivered to the location by the time Fleiss and her family arrived.

Fleiss summed up Jetblack as having one’s own “personal shopping service over text messages.”

 

Jennifer Fleiss  George Chinsee

 

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