Source: Randy Faris

How many times have you seen an interesting ingredient in a supermarket, but passed because you weren't sure what to cook with it?

Walmart aims to solve that problem by providing information to customers when they need it and want it. The retailer will soon have scannable barcodes for customers to instantly find recipes, how-to videos, and ingredient lists.

This is all part of Walmart's new strategy to bulk up its "Print Plus" weekly circular with digital content for its readership of 80 million people. Brands will supply content that appears when customers scan their smart phones over print ads.

Walmart wants to play the role of curator by producing no more than 15% of the content, while brands will provide the rest in exchange for brand exposure and additional touch-points to interact with shoppers.

This intiative has huge potential in a number of categories. For example, for cosmetics brands such as CoverGirl (owned by P&G), customers can scan a barcode for an eyeshadow ad and learn about how to apply smoky eye makeup.

Walmart also has the opportunity to recommend complementary products to complete the look, including nude-colored lipstick, blush, and foundation. The opportunity for building the units per transaction (UPT), an important KPI for retailers, is boundless.

Although Walmart has not yet discussed this, offering information about where the product is located within the store could be another interesting way to expand the program. If customers can't find a product, they may not want to take the extra step to ask a store associate, or to look around the whole store to find the right aisle. So showing customers where to find the product addresses this frustration and makes the store experience more seamless and enjoyable.

What remains to be seen is whether customers will take the time to scan and interact with digital content. Asking customers to watch a video when they want to skim a circular to see promotions, or when they are holding a basket at the point-of-purchase in the store, might be too big of a commitment. Even a 15 to 30 second video takes time away from the real-time shopping experience.

However, Clint McClain, senior director-marketing communications platforms at Walmart, has a different view when asked whether customers will engage. "Not a lot of them, but out of 140 million people [Walmart's weekly customer count] you don't have to have a huge percentage to make a difference."

Indeed, Walmart can segment and capture different customers by offering options at varying levels of time commitment, ranging from 15 second videos to instant digital recipes. Continually testing what works will allow the retailer to fully maximize their investment in incorporating content into ads.

Despite Walmart's size, the company has already adopted an attitude of acting quickly. Recently, they created and aired an advertisement with country music star Blake Shelton in only 4 days. Each week, Walmart shoots 30 ads on Monday that run in local markets by the week's end. The company is increasingly curating content instead of producing everything from scratch.

In an age when customers regularly access information on mobile devices and expect real-time relevance, it's encouraging to see Walmart taking major steps towards incorporating digital into the shopping experience. As the world's largest retailer, other businesses will likely watch how this strategy unfolds to develop best practices in a largely uncharted territory with ample potential.