Walmart’s text message-based Jetblack shopping service shuts down

Walmart’s experimental personal shopping service, Jetblack, is shutting down, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. The service launched in 2018 and allowed customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn to shop at Walmart stores by texting the service. Then employees would receive and fulfill those orders.

Jetblack, which was available for $50 per month, will continue to fulfill any outstanding orders through February 21st, according to a note on the company’s website. Customers will also be refunded for their final month’s membership fee.

An earlier report from The Wall Street Journal noted that Jetblack had been struggling to succeed for some time. The invite-only service only had about 600 members as of last summer, each of which was costing Walmart around $15,000 per year, thanks to delivery costs and the losses Walmart took in order to achieve its “low price” guarantee. Attempts to try to sell the division off as a separate company also failed.

Walmart had originally planned to use the service to train automated bots to fulfill the orders instead of the roughly 350 employees that ran Jetblack. Of those employees, 293 will be laid off, while some of the service’s technology and design team will join Walmart’s larger organization.

In a statement announcing the shutdown, Walmart tried to optimistically spin the failure of Jetblack as a sort of learning experience, claiming that it would take information like “how customers respond to the ability of ordering by text as well as the type of items they purchase through texting,” and apply it toward future Walmart services.

The failure of Jetblack — the first project from Store No. 8, Walmart’s in-house tech incubator — marks the latest difficulty for the popular brick-and-mortar retailer to break into the digital space that’s dominated by companies like Amazon. The company still is continuing to try with other subscription efforts like InHome, which promises direct-to-fridge delivery.