Bellingham Walmart hopes recent renovation benefits more than just in-store customers

Bellingham’s Walmart store has some new conveniences that should benefit both traditional and online shoppers.

On Friday, May 10, the Meridian Street store had an event celebrating the end of its remodel that started three months ago. The project involved revamping or expanding several departments, adding new signs and moving things around. It was part of a $36 million remodeling project for seven Washington State Walmart stores, according to a news release.

One of the bigger changes is moving and expanding the pickup department to the front of the store. Customers can order and pay for items online and then pick them up at the store, most of the time within two hours, Bellingham Store Manager Chris Johnson told The Bellingham Herald.

Johnson said the pickup department is a growing part of the store’s business. The trend he’s noticed is many customers use it for gift or specialty item pickups, more so than for regular grocery trips. It’s also become very popular with Canadian shoppers, he said.

Having it at the front of the store makes it much easier for customers to get in-and-out quickly, Diane Whitman told The Herald.

“I’ve been getting great feedback about this,” Whitman said, adding that they are already seeing more customers using it.

Another big change was adding a separate money services department near the checkout stands. Previously it was part of the customer service department, but that sometimes resulted in long lines because that money service department had become so busy. Check cashing, bill paying and money orders are the most popular use of that department, Johnson said.

Bellingham Walmart Store Manager Chris Johnson and Site Store Associate Diane Whitman look over some online product pickup information on Thursday. The store recently completed a major remodel that includes expanding its online ordering department. Shoppers can shop for items online and pick it up at the front of the store. Dave Gallagher

The store also expanded its dry grocery section, doing so while reorganizing the department in a way people could better find things.

Other departments that grew as a result of the remodel include accessories, home furniture and infant clothing. The pharmacy also added a health services room to better handle immunizations and consultations, and the electronics section was remodeled.

The store also changed its check-out system to help customers, Johnson said. Previously they noticed that shoppers would occasionally leave behind a bag of groceries; that hasn’t happened under the new system.

Later this year the Bellingham store is expected to have a couple more changes — one that will further improve the pick-up department, as well as the installation of LED lights.

The retail giant also has begun unveiling high-tech options at some of its stores, including an autonomous self-scanner and a faster unloading system. Those have not arrived at the Bellingham store, yet, Johnson said.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.