SAN FRANCISCO — Walmart is rapidly answering Amazon and other mega-retailers by letting customers pick up online purchases at a nearby stores.

The retail giant has come around to the belief that customers really care only about buying a product in the fastest, cheapest, most convenient way possible.

Researching products online or on mobile is easier than going to a store for lots of shoppers, and picking up the product up at the local store removes that hassle of waiting for the mail, explains Walmart’s global head of mobile Gibu Thomas on a panel at MobileBeat today.

Thomas said that one in five Walmart.com online purchases are picked up at Walmart stores now, making those participating stores play a second role as online fulfillment centers.

Customers don’t care about what channel they buy through, and if they don’t care, retailers shouldn’t care, Thomas said.

“We are trying to blend the distinction between the channels,” Thomas says. “We are more about removing friction points from shopping than about channels.”

One of the greatest reducers of this friction is the use of mobile devices and apps for shopping at Walmart, Thomas says.

Just a few years ago, mobile shopping was a very novel thing to Walmart, he says. Today a majority of Walmart shoppers are carrying smartphones, and the retailer is trying hard to leverage mobile devices for in-store sales.

“If you have a device that you can act on at the moment you feel the urge to research a product or buy a product, that’s a very good thing for us,” Thomas says.

Thomas runs the mobile team within Walmart Labs. His team develops all consumer-facing mobile and e-commerce shopping products.

One of the products that came out of the group is called “Store Mode,” which Walmart shoppers use on the phone while shopping in a brick and mortar store.

Store Mode uses geo-fencing to detect when a user is headed for a real-world store, then switches to a special interface that offers things like in-store coupons and e-receipts.

Mobile traffic on Walmart’s site last Thanksgiving made up 53 percent of total traffic (out of a whopping 400 million page views). Walmart also notes that new customers making purchases for the first time on mobile is up three times from the previous year.

Update: This story previously stated that 20 percent of Walmart stores are being used to fulfill online orders. In reality, 20 percent of products bought online are being fulfilled from Walmart stores. We’ve corrected the headline and the story.

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