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Walmart Tests Personal Shopping Services


A personal shopping service - it's the sort of thing that's been associated with the wealthy elite and luxury brands, certainly not a company like Walmart, at least, until now. Here's NPR's Alina Selyukh.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Jessica Leila Adnani runs a business called Personalized Solutions. It basically helps busy, wealthy people get stuff done.

JESSICA LEILA ADNANI: Personal shopping, lifestyle management, estate management, travel planning - you name it.

SELYUKH: It's called a concierge service. And I asked Adnani to meet me at an upscale retail center in downtown Washington because I want to talk about personal shopping, which is a big part of her job.

ADNANI: Sometimes you're just hired to make sure that they have 15 different dresses for gala season, or maybe they're going on a really big trip to Italy, and they need you to purchase outfits and then pack them.

SELYUKH: One person hired her to close on a new condo and quickly furnish it. There was a lot of Christmas gift buying. I asked Adnani where she normally goes to shop.

ADNANI: My favorite designers - if we're talking clothing - would definitely be Emilio Pucci. I also enjoy Salvatore Ferragamo.

SELYUKH: Which is, I think, just down from here.

ADNANI: Right down here, exactly.

SELYUKH: For home goods, she offers other brands on the higher end. But then she says, less expensive retail stores also have their moments, which gives me a chance to bring up a specific one.

Have you ever run into Walmart for any of your purchases?

ADNANI: I have actually never been into Walmart for anything client-related.

SELYUKH: And Walmart really wants to change that. The company's known for its low prices, but now, trying to remain the world's largest retailer, Walmart is branching out. Its latest test is a personal shopping service. The company doesn't divulge any details, but it has posted jobs that describe a personalized concierge for everyday shopping. They're calling the project Code Eight. News site Recode reports that the target audience is high-net-worth urban consumers. I tell Adnani all this, and she looks extremely surprised.

ADNANI: I think that the biggest problem they're going to face with this is the high-net-worth shopper is not a Walmart shopper.

SELYUKH: Which is exactly the point - Walmart is searching for new growth avenues. It's been testing new services like delivering groceries with an option to put them directly into your fridge if you're not home, and it's been buying other retailers - online menswear site Bonobos and an indie clothing store ModCloth, both of which had younger and very loyal customers.

CORA PEEVY ALVILLAR: One of the reasons why I have loved ModCloth is because it's a place where I can buy size extra small all the way up to 4X (ph).

SELYUKH: Cora Peevy Alvillar is a beauty and fashion blogger with hundreds of thousands of followers. She focuses a lot on plus-size fashion. And ModCloth used to make frequent appearances on her YouTube channel vintageortacky, but the sale to Walmart really riled her.

ALVILLAR: My very first reaction was, you know, has the world gone upside down? Here was this company that stood for all these amazing ethics and this independent spirit, and then they sold themselves to Walmart, which is, like, the ultimate corporate retailer that has been known to have unscrupulous business practices.

SELYUKH: This is an image that Walmart would dispute, but it's the result of decades of worker lawsuits and allegations from advocacy groups. Analysts say it's a reputation that Walmart needs to shake to get that new, cool X-factor. Alvillar says she's not boycotting Walmart, and she understands that for many people, it's the only affordable or available option. But now Walmart is going hard after people with many options and a lot of money. Both Alvillar and Adnani say they're skeptical, though curious to see if the strategy works.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONSTER RALLY'S "EQUINOX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.
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