Faced with quarters of declining same-store sales, retailing giant Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) is going a step ahead to boost in-store traffic. The company is expanding an online initiative, named "Pick Up Today," that would let customers order items online and collect them from the company's stores later. However, the move is not a true first for either the company or the industry.

Nevertheless, if you're one of those people who hate endlessly searching around the company's football-field-sized stores for a very specific brand of soap, it is good news for you.

Come to the 'Mart
Wal-Mart has been testing the program since October last year in nearly 750 stores and 20 markets nationwide. The decision to expand to this hybrid retailing model comes at a time when the company has been facing a drop in its same-store sales, with some reports suggesting its customers were turning to competitors for value deals. Wal-Mart recently announced that sales at stores open at least a year fell for a seventh consecutive quarter.

The program has already shown signs of increasing sales and foot traffic at outlets across the nation. Wal-Mart expects to extend the program to 3,600 stores across the country in June. Wal-Mart has not added groceries to the 40,000-strong list of items that it plans to offer through the program.

Store traffic has shown a steady decline in recent times, as consumers have tightened their purse strings in a sluggish economy. A host of other factors including escalating gas prices and consumers' preference to avoid bulk purchases have also weighed on sales. In search of better deals, shoppers are now turning to peers such as Costco (Nasdaq: COST) and Target (NYSE: TGT), as well as more convenient dollar stores such as Dollar General (NYSE: DG).

Along with Pick Up Today, Wal-Mart is hoping for a surge in sales as it looks to open a string of smaller stores in both rural and urban markets in order to drive up sales.

Competitors have similar programs
This is, however, not the first ever foray into online marketing by a retail outlet. Broadline retailers Sears (Nasdaq: SHLD) and specialty retailer Nordstrom already have similar programs in place, as does electronics chain Best Buy (NYSE: BBY). Retailers claim that combining both online and in-store inventories together have helped increase foot traffic markedly and sell more products. If a store is out of a product, customers can book them online to be picked up on another day. This encourages shoppers to pick up pre-ordered items, helping increase store visits.

However, one of the drawbacks of online shopping is that it tends to rule out the possibility of impulse buys. Normally, shoppers have a fixed list and they don't generally deviate. At a store, however, one would normally indulge in some impulsive purchases.

The Foolish bottom line
Things look set for an upsurge as Wal-Mart bolsters its online operations. Depending on the success of this program, rival retailers may quickly follow suit. After all, there's nothing more frustrating than going to a store for a particular item only to realize they are fresh out of stock.

Shubh Datta doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in the article. Best Buy, Costco, and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Best Buy and Costco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Wal-Mart. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy, Costco, and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.