Walmart Inc. is examining whether artificial intelligence can transform the grocery shopping experience by making stores more efficient and providing better real-time information to employees.
Walmart (No. 3 in the just-released Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000,) equipped its Levittown, New York, Neighborhood Market store with AI-powered technology—both software and hardware—intended to simplify the shopping experience and keep better track of inventory. Walmart’s Neighborhood Market stores are smaller than typical Walmart stores. They include grocery items, along with household supplies, health and beauty aids and a pharmacy.
The new concept, which Walmart calls Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), was officially unveiled Thursday, although the Levittown store remained open during the transition.
Walmart says it outfitted the IRL store with 100 servers, more than 400 graphics processing units (GPUs), 150,000 feet of cable, 10 cooling towers, cameras, sensors and real-time analytics software. The technology will alert staff about items in need of restocking, aging produce that needs replacing, shelves that require clean-up, potential safety hazards such as spills, or when available shopping carts are running low. The technology will also deliver near-real-time data that enables omnichannel shoppers to view more accurate information about inventory availability. That should give consumers more confidence about ordering online for at-store pickup, a Walmart spokesman says.
The technology will not replace any of the store’s more than 130 employees. With AI performing mundane tasks, associates will be free to spend more time helping shoppers, the spokesman says. The 50,000 square-foot store carries roughly 30,000 items, he says.
“This is a live, working lab,” the spokesman says. As such, the goal is not to replicate IRL as a whole in other locations but to test and generate new ideas in a real-world setting. The retailer can then export those lessons to other stores, he says. He declined to discuss the costs of creating IRL, which was developed by Walmart’s tech incubator unit, Store No 8.
“A core part of our business more is to lower costs and then translate that into lower prices,” the spokesman says.
In recent years, Walmart has invested heavily in technology to make the retail giant more efficient and reach customers in new ways. That has included a raft of partnerships with companies including Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Microsoft Corp., China’s JD.com and Japan’s Rakuten. In addition, earlier this month, Walmart began letting customers order groceries by voice through Google’s smart-home assistant.
Late last year, Walmart’s Sam’s Club unit opened a cashier-free store that requires shoppers to use a mobile app to check out. That Sam’s Club Now concept store is an evolution of Sam’s Club’s Scan & Go app, which allows consumers to scan and pay as they shop on their smartphone in other Sam’s Club locations.
However, Walmart’s IRL will continue to use traditional staffed and self-scan checkout, the spokesman says. The goal with IRL is to offer shoppers the experience they expect at a Walmart Neighborhood Market, only enhanced with new technology and better service, he says.
The store also includes touchscreen “information stations” for shoppers who want to understand the technology Walmart is testing.Favorite