(Bloomberg) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is expanding its mobile-payment system across the U.S., adding convenience for shoppers and giving the world’s biggest retailer new data on its customers’ shopping habits.
The Walmart Pay feature on its app -- available on Apple and Android devices -- can now be used at all 4,600 U.S. stores, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said Wednesday in a statement. Wal-Mart said more than 20 million people regularly use its app, which also provides discounts and helps shoppers locate items within stores.
Wal-Mart is betting that the new payment system will make the checkout process faster and more convenient, though it can’t yet quantify how much time it saves shoppers. With 140 million weekly shoppers, the expansion also puts the retailer in direct competition with technology giants such as Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., which all offer their own ways for consumers to make mobile purchases.
Shares of Wal-Mart rose 0.9 percent to $73.82 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 20 percent this year.
The expanded mobile payments also may provide Wal-Mart with a trove of additional data that it could use to improve its marketing via e-mail, text message or on Facebook, said Omer Artun, chief executive officer of AgilOne, a technology consulting firm. Wal-Mart and other retailers currently use third parties to collect the names, e-mail and addresses of shoppers who pay with a credit card, but that process is time-consuming and not always accurate, Artun said.
“If they can get adoption up, they really have the full life of a customer,” Artun said. “You know what they are buying and can use that for both targeting ads and for merchandising better.”
Wal-Mart may eventually use the data to tailor customers’ experiences, like creating a shopping list for a users based on past purchases, said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart U.S. All of the data will be kept strictly confidential, all purchases are made behind Wal-Mart’s firewall, and no data will be used without the customer’s permission, the company said.
“We take our relationship with customers and the privacy they would expect from us very seriously,” Eckert said. “We do look at ways we can use that data with their permission to improve their shopping experience.”
Among mobile-payment programs that are currently available, Apple Pay has the most traction so far. The system, which works in multiple countries, is adding 1 million new users per week. Among store-based efforts, Starbucks Corp. has had the most success, with 24 percent of its U.S. transactions in the second quarter coming from its mobile app. Unlike rivals’ efforts, though, Starbucks’ app is tied to its own loyalty program, which gives frequent users free beverages and discounts. It also allows for time-saving features like mobile ordering ahead.
--With assistance from Olga Kharif
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