NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Online shopping is off to a strong start this holiday season, and big-box retailers such as Walmart (WMT - Get Report) and Home Depot (HD - Get Report) want to make it even more convenient for people to pick up their gifts.
How do they plan to do that? By installing lockers and gated areas inside their stores.
Walmart recently announced an expansion of its "Grab & Go" locker service in Canada to 33 locations from 10, or about 8% of its total store base in the country. A person who buys merchandise from Walmart Canada's Web store is notified by email when his item is available and the nearest locker to go to and collect the item. An access code consisting of six digits is punched into a keypad on a blue and yellow locker bearing the Walmart name, and away the shopper goes.
There is no additional cost to the consumer for the service; it simply replaces a trip to the human-operated service desk to pick up a product that was ordered online.
The company didn't respond to an inquiry on how many of its 4,987 stores in the U.S. have "Grab & Go" lockers. Walmart reportedly began to test the pickup service in the U.S. last year at some stores in the Washington, D.C., area.
At home-improvement chain Home Depot, new pickup areas popping up in stores this holiday season are slightly different than the locker system at Walmart. Home Depot calls the spaces "in-store pickup cages," which are for merchandise that is ordered online and sent for pickup at a store. The merchandise is corralled behind a locked cage.
Once a customer comes to collect his item, a Home Depot employee removes it from the cage and hands it off. According to a Home Depot spokesman, the pickup cages are in 550 of the company's 1,917 U.S. stores.
Target hasn't followed the leads of Walmart or Home Depot. When asked if it was planning to launch lockers for online order pickup at its stores next year, a Target spokesman responded, "We're always looking at ways to continue to enhance the store pick-up experience, but don't have anything additional to share at this time."
Walmart and Home Depot are hoping to accomplish a couple of things with their new in-store pickup options.
One is that the pickup alternatives help to reduce customer disappointment arising from slow home delivery times and from theft. Retailers stand to lower their own shipping costs. Another aspect is to give customers ordering items on a mobile device the ability to quickly consume the product.
The need to keep tech-savvy, online buyers happy from the start of a purchase to the finish is critical in the retailers maintaining torrid online sales growth rates.
Third-quarter online sales for Home Depot increased 40% year-over-year, after rising 50% in the year-ago period. "We saw increased traffic to our sites, growth in online conversion and an increase in the number of orders being picked up in the store in the quarter," Home Depot president and CEO Craig Menear said on a Nov. 18 earnings call.
Walmart's U.S. e-commerce business, including store-fulfilled sales, contributed about 0.2 of a percentage point to the division's overall 0.5% same-store sales increase in the third quarter. Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon said, "We are developing the capabilities to save our customers time and give them the choices they want by integrating digital and physical retail in ways that are convenient for what they want at that moment."
ComScore announced on Dec 2. that Cyber Monday sales surpassed the $2 billion mark for the first time, rising 17% from a year ago. From Nov 1. to Dec. 1, comScore estimated that online sales increased 16%, with the biggest gain occurring on Thanksgiving Day at 32%.
The locker program by Walmart is not a new idea for the retail industry, just another way for the overseer of a vast network of physical stores to satisfy its virtual demand. Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) launched lockers in 2011, which originally went onto the sales floors of 7-Eleven, Staples (SPLS) and RadioShack (RSH) .
The large, yellow and grey lockers with Amazon emblazoned in white ink are no longer in Staples and RadioShack. But they are increasingly popping up in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia.
A spokesperson at Amazon did not respond to a request for details on how many lockers has in the U.S.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no position in the stocks mentioned.