Big Box App Product Teardown: Walmart v. IKEA

Purposeful Shoppers v. Wanderers

Walmart is an everything store. You can fill prescriptions, buy a TV, a lawn chair, groceries, whatever you want, it’s probably there. Even if you went to Walmart for a very specific purpose, the store is designed for you to get lost in and roam around.

As such, the Walmart app should serve both purposeful shoppers and wanderers.

For purposeful shoppers, Walmart should help them find their items and accelerate the purchasing process not only at checkout, but also at their money services counter and pharmacy, where waits can be longer. For wanderers, it should help them compile lists of items, and if possible, checkout as they’re shopping. If it really wants to be consumer friendly, it should help you to comparison shop against its competitors.

IKEA does not have the wide range of functions that Walmart does; they sell furniture and housewares. At IKEA, you may not be sure what you want when you enter, but there are arrows that tell you where to walk, and ensure that you see as many products as possible in a representative context. I half-wondered if it might be useful for them to include a guided tour in the app.

There is no need to comparison shop because everything sold is an IKEA product. And everything is always in stock. IKEA does not want your visit to have a short, discrete purpose. They want you to come in, and continue piling things on.

IKEA caters to wanderers.

This is the challenge IKEA faces in developing an app. There are more obviously useful functions in an app for purposeful shoppers. They know what they want, and your job is to make it easier to get. For wanderers, the’s more nebulous, but there are certain things that would clearly be useful.

Wanderers want help organizing their outings. A good app could separate their shopping lists by category. It could help them find items big and small. It could provide useful information about the products. It could easily scan items in. It could help make the checkout process faster. It could arrange delivery.

The IKEA app does almost none of these things.

Why does the Walmart app succeed where the IKEA app does not? Let’s find out in this product teardown battle royale of the big box apps: Walmart v. IKEA.

Walmart Onboarding

The first thing Walmart wants to know is where you live and if they can send you notifications.

After that, the sign in or, alternately, account creation process is pretty straightforward, requiring only a name, an email account and a password. That’s it! Pretty easy. You’re a Walmarter now!

As far as using the product from the comfort of not-Walmart, there are a few core functionalities. The buttons on the bottom allow you to toggle through the homepage interface, a screen where you can reorder items, a list/map of local Walmarts generated by Apple Maps, and your account screen.

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The search function is pretty simple, suggesting item categories as you type. Oddly, it does not suggest specific items, even if you type them in precisely. Search results can be found both in-store and on, allowing you to compare prices.

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Setting your local Walmart as “My Store” gives you the ability to order items for pickup, thus saving yourself shipping costs on anything you might like online, as well as the ability to check the in-store inventory, including the in-store location of the item (you can see the Sriracha correctly identified as being in aisle G23 in the image above). There’s also a helpful listing of every kind of phone number you might want to call at a specific Walmart, including those of the in-store McDonald’s, the garden center, the pharmacy, and every other department.

Other Features

The Walmart app also has a “lists” feature for when you’re too timid to actually add something to your cart, a “pharmacy” feature that you can refill prescriptions either by entering a prescription or scanning a prescription code. You can also register your baby shower or wedding at Walmart, and view the weekly ad, which can be seen in a list view that takes up the same 14 scrollable pages as the hard copy ad, but at least allows you to click on specific items. You can also use Walmart Money Services in order to transfer and receive money at a Walmart more promptly.

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Let’s Go To Walmart!

The first thing to do is find a Walmart. I’ve allowed it to access my location, so it should be able to do that (though, realistically, if you’ve bothered to download the Walmart app, you know where your nearest Walmart is).

A problem arises! I don’t have Apple Maps because it is quite literally a punchline for a catastrophically bad app.

Upon arriving at Walmart, I intend to get some t-shirts, then, in keeping with the common Walmart experience, wander around aimlessly and see what happens. Before leaving for Walmart, I can run a search, find the item I want, and see that they have it in aisle A7. Great!

If I wanted to, I could arrange for the item to be shipped to and later picked up in the store (and you can set an alternate person to pickup for you, which is a nice feature).

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In the main part of the store, basically there are two things they want you to do with the app beyond the search function. 1) scan barcodes and QR codes to your little heart’s content and 2) use Walmart Pay.

I did not use Walmart Pay. And yet, despite failing to win me as a user, Walmart Pay is the third-most popular mobile wallet app? Yep, it’s ahead of Android Pay! The Walmart I was at had dozens of checkout counters as well as quite a few self-checkout stations, so I didn’t really need to use it to skip lines, especially since I only bought two items. But scanning as you go and then showing an associate your receipt on my phone as your leave would be helpful if lines were long or you had a fuller cart. Walmart pay also allows for easier returns, as the receipt would be stored on your phone, though you can scan in hard copies as well.

But there’s a small problem I came across repeatedly that presumably affects the ability to use Walmart Pay. I talk, of course, about scanning.

While I was able to successfully scan in the sticker on a Susan Boyle CD (she has the voice of an angel, okay?), the Harlequin novel, whose barcode is on the actual product, would not scan successfully. Similarly, the dopest thing in the store, a wolf incense burner, had no sticker on it, and scanning the tabbed insert in the shelf resulted in an error message, as did several other items.

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This is a minor quibble perhaps, and is just probably the way it is always going to be for Walmart, a company that has inventory from a million different sources.

In the end, I was able to find the exact t-shirts I was looking for where they were promised to be rather than just sort of being discouraged by the extremely disorganized rack and walking away, as I might have under normal circumstances. Though I didn’t need it, the value of its features to those who might be doing a bit more at the store was clear as well.

IKEA Onboarding

Unlike Walmart, which has 4.5 stars from App Store reviewers, and is prominently featured in the App Store, the IKEA app has 2.5 stars and does not show up through any browse functions. Is it hidden because the App Store is ashamed of it? (Yes. Yes it is.)

IKEA’s onboarding process is effectively the same as Walmart’s. They ask for your location, pick your store, and you can quickly set up an account for an IKEA Family Card. So far so good.

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Using IKEA outside of an IKEA presents the challenge of “all the product names are in Swedish,” and with everything carrying the same brand name, the only way to search, really, is by browsing. Beyond that, shopping for furniture without actually seeing the furniture is a dangerous game, at least until augmented reality tech takes a giant leap forward (we’ll discuss that later).

My trip to IKEA has a specific goal: acquire some cheap plastic cutting boards. Let’s see if they have them in my store. It takes going through a few pages, but eventually, there’s my beloved Finfördela, $1.99 for a two-pack. I can add them to my list, wherein the page whooshes and disappears into the list itself. With an item in mind, it’s off to IKEA!

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My pre-app IKEA experiences were all fundamentally the same. You follow a preordained path, using your golf pencil to make notes of what you like onto a sheet of paper. Once you’ve made it all the way through the showroom, only then can you go to the self serve area and find the things you want that you will then pile onto a cart, and wait in line to buy. Well, good news, fans of IKEA Classic: the IKEA app changes nearly nothing about the shopping experience.

Let’s start with the first, most obvious bad news: for some reason, it was only possible to scan small items. If you, for some reason went to IKEA expecting to buy furniture, you’re going to have to manually enter those in rather than scan them because… reasons. This is particularly frustrating since IKEA’s products often share names (e.g. there are “Malm” dressers as well as bedframes).

But maybe they’re right not to have all items available to be scanned because on multiple occasions, the IKEA app crashed while I was using the scanner. I’d imagine if instead of just crashing a couple times, it had crashed ten times during my visit, I would have found that to be absolutely infuriating.

Without anything to scan on the big items, you may as well manually write down what you want, and where you want to get it from as if this were still 1994 (related dumb idea: both the Walmart and IKEA apps should have Shazam integration, or at least the day’s playlist, so I can be reminded which generic ’90s pop song I’m hearing faintly in the background at a given moment).

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Another issue: never have I ever encountered such a shy app. Want to get directions? “This will take you out of the IKEA app” (to Apple Maps, no less!) Want to see product recalls, the privacy policy or the items advertised in the ad that is basically the only thing on the home screen of this app? Goodbye IKEA app, hello Safari. Most ridiculously, you are redirected out of the IKEA app IF YOU WANT TO BUY IKEA PRODUCTS. This is crazy!

Unlike Walmart, whose app is designed to actually change the Walmart user’s visit, the IKEA app is designed simply to avoid interfering with the process that’s worked over the years. I gave up and left without finding the cutting boards wherever they might have been in the enormous marketplace section. They’d rather I have to work my way through everything and possibly make another purchase before finding them, and I didn’t want to.

Where does an elephant sit?

I’ve been very critical of the IKEA app, and one has to imagine that the people over at IKEA are well aware of these shortcomings, and indeed have the ability to fix many of them.

Which raises the question of… why don’t they?

My best guess: IKEA doesn’t want its customers to behave like Walmart customers. To IKEA, anything that removes friction from the process of passing through the showroom threatens their business. And so, the ancillary problems that don’t have anything to do with that (why doesn’t the IKEA app make checkout easier, for example) are a result of the core belief that a fully functional in-store app is a net negative to their business.

It would seem IKEA sees the better opportunity for their app existing outside their stores. They just put their products on Amazon, and  are now working with Apple to develop an augmented reality app that will allow you to visualize IKEA products in the context of your own home. Perhaps the combination of these services will allow you to have the IKEA experience without leaving your home. That sounds awesome!

Currently, IKEA has had an AR feature in its secondary IKEA Catalog app, and it is… not great! Look at this weird floating cabinet:

Really ties the room together

The move to Amazon is the clearest signal that they might be willing to tolerate a la carte customers. My guess is they believe customers will primarily make smaller purchases of the type that may not warrant a specific outing to IKEA (glasses, silverware, etc.) and still come to the store to buy furniture. The real test will be if the AR improves massively, allowing for easier a la carte furniture shopping. For now, let’s adopt a skeptical stance until we see better results.

The Remains Of The Days

With both apps, I left a few items in my cart to see if they notified me either by email or with an in-phone notification. It’s been three days, and so far, nothing from IKEA.

Walmart sent me an email notification the same day that my cart still had items in it (subject line: Psst – you forgot something!), another email highlighting a different item in my cart two days later (subject line: Shipping’s free, why not go for it?). I imagine I will receive emails every few days begging me to buy more chili garlic sauce until I shuffle off this mortal coil.

With Walmart, I tried out the Savings Catcher feature, which searches other stores to see if they have better prices, then makes up the difference as a Walmart gift card. I scanned my receipt, then, within within about seven hours I was notified via email that I didn’t have anything coming my way. Darn.

In the end, I don’t plan to keep either of these apps on my phone: I just don’t go to these stores often enough to want or need them. However, a regular Walmart shopper could find their app essential, particularly in-store pickup, Walmart Pay and features that allow users to trim what can be long waits at the pharmacy and money services center.

As to IKEA’s app, much like many of their actual products, it is cheap, breaks down easily and ends up being a massive disappointment that doesn’t do the things you want it to do.