In an effort to help customers save money and live better, Walmart is embracing the power of artificial intelligence (AI). The retailer’s latest move is the launch of an Intelligent Retail Lab in its 50,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market store in Long Island, NY. It represents the third project from Walmart’s incubation arm: Store No. 8. Powered by AI technology, this lab is Walmart’s attempt to reshape how consumers shop.
The Long Island store now boasts thousands of cameras on the ceiling and sensors embedded in shelves to monitor the space in real-time. This allows workers to quickly replenish products and address any problems as they arise, such as aisle spills or a lack of available shopping carts for customers. Meanwhile, the cameras are so advanced that they can detect how ripe produce is from their color alone and alert workers on their phones when they need to be restocked.
“We really like to think of this store as an artificial intelligence factory, a place where we are building these products, experiences, where we are testing and learning,” Mike Hanrahan, CEO of Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab, told The Associated Press.
Of course, with so many cameras and sensors populating the store, privacy concerns are front of mind. Walmart insists the cameras in the Long Island store do not recognize faces or the ethnicity of shoppers, nor do they track their movement. The store posts signs and features informational stations throughout informing shoppers how this technology is being used, and no cameras appear near the pharmacy, restrooms, or in employee break rooms for privacy purposes.
The next step for Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab is a shift from the physical store into the online realm. Currently, they’re testing new features within the Scan & Go App that would let customers scan items while shopping in a store and then buy them on their phones. This would allow customers to completely circumvent the checkout line. It’s similar to the grab-and-go experience of Amazon Go stores, where customers scan in with an app, grab the products they want, and then walk out as the store automatically charges their Amazon account.
Walmart is looking to spread this AI-backed technology to other stores over the next six months in a move to lower costs and, thus, prices. The Intelligent Retail Lab in Long Island is meant to help manage the store more efficiently, keep costs down, and create a more desirable shopping experience for customers.
This leap into a more digitized brick-and-mortar storefront represents Walmart’s biggest play yet against e-commerce giants like Amazon. With an improved shopping experience powered by next-gen technology, Walmart is banking on higher sales due to increased foot traffic. It’s a smart move in a crowded retail marketplace. Customers are increasingly looking for brands that offer a more personalized, unique shopping experience.
Walmart’s embrace of digital technology could set the retailer up for greater success down the line. For example, an interactive display lets customers have fun with the AI by estimating their exact body positioning. Simple touches like this demonstrate the power of this technology in a fun, less intimidating way. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes, the technology is hard at work creating a better overall shopping experience for customers.
Walmart’s AI-powered labs have the potential to transform our understanding of how technology impacts both workers and the customer experience—two critical variables to the success of retailers worldwide. Testing this technology out in a real-world environment enables Walmart to adjust the functionality of its labs on the fly to better meet customer expectations and preferences. The store of the future is closer than you think!