Walmart Launches Water Testing

Scott Webb Headshot
photo of endcap of water testing kiosk
Photo of water test kiosk taken at Walmart store.
photo of the screen on water testing machine
Screen shot of computerized water test machine with basic instructions.

Walmart corporation has launched an initiative to provide in-store testing of pool water.

Select Walmart stores in North America have set up water test kiosks to enable customers to bring in a water sample and have it analyzed for prescriptive water maintenance. The system is meant to mimic the water testing offered by pool and spa retailers, offering customers computerized guidance on what chemicals to buy and add in order to achieve balanced water.

Information thus far has been anecdotal — reports from industry professionals who encountered the water testing stations firsthand in Pennsylvania, Indiana and California. Walmart has not released information on the number of stores nationwide that have installed the test kiosks.

Water testing has long been a major component of the dealer’s advantage over Internet and big box retailers, part of the package of expertise that separates the professional pool store from the mass merchant. By offering water testing along with low-priced chemicals, Walmart is trying to cut into the still-substantial chemical trade that runs through pool and spa retail companies.

There are enormous differences, however, between the Walmart kiosk and the typical pool and spa store water test counter.

Walmart’s water testing kiosks feature a set of instructions a customer must read, understand and accurately follow —independently of trained help, as these kiosks are unmanned.

A typical pool and spa retailer offers a much more customer-friendly system, where a water maintenance professional tests the water and supplies expert advice on chemical application.

 “We offer a better level of expertise,” says Kiya Bachmann, co-owner of Bachmann Pool and Spa, Madison, Wisc. “We educate our consumers. All their expectations are met, and they get to talk to somebody.

“I don’t feel threatened by it, because I don’t feel threatened by Walmart selling chemicals. When people are buying from Walmart, they’re buying only because they have not been educated. And it’s my job as a specialist in Madison to educate those people.”

It is unclear whether Walmart’s foray into recreational water testing will last. The kiosks have been installed in a limited number of stores, clearly as a test of whether the concept of unaided water testing in a mass merchandiser can work.

The move by Walmart serves to sharpen the focus on pool and spa expertise which dealers have been using to differentiate their stores and the service they provide.

Please join the discussion below. Do you regard in-store water testing by mass merchandisers as a threat to traditional pool and spa retailers? Or is such an operation beyond the capabilities of a big box store?

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