We cannot live without groceries. In accordance with the advancement of technology, grocery stores have evolved. Those changes could not be imagined back in 20 years ago. Same as now, we could not imagine the future of retail stores. However, the pioneers in the industry have been paying efforts to shape the future...
Walmart- The world-top retail corporation
You may not shop in Walmart before, but you must have heard this brand name. Walmart is the largest retail corporation and company by revenue in the world. They are originated in America and operates a chain of hypermarkets, department stores and grocery stores. Walmart owns their business in 24 countries worldwide and employs over two million people. Besides running retail stores, they are also huge investors and innovators on retail technologies. With their R&D team, they have launched some impressive technical solutions to assist their operations.
Why does Walmart spend that much on
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has a straightforward attitude on technology- "it is part of Walmart's work." Walmart believes that technology is essential to their businesses. McMillion reveals that they are working with AI, big data and robotics for several purposes:
AI: To personalize customer's experience to save customer's time
Big data: To make better interact with customers
Robotics: To automate tasks in stores
With the investment in technical solutions, Walmart aims to reshape their business by modernizing the supply chain and tech stack processes. McMillon believes that applying new perspectives is the key to grow an organization.
The recent AIs in Walmart
Walmart has applied several AI solutions on improving its regular business operations.
1. Product substitution
Officially launched in June 2021, it is the latest AI solution that Walmart's in use. This solution addresses one of their challenges- product substitution.
Walmart operates both physical stores and online stores. The combination of in-store shoppers and online volume resulted in massive demand for popular items, such as everyday necessities- food and groceries. The shoppers have needs on receiving the best substitute for an out-of-stock item.
In the previous approach, the shoppers may go to the physical stores for product substitution and be assisted by an employee. As customers' decision on the product to substitute is highly personal, it would be hard for the employee to suggest a suitable product option. Moreover, if the employee made a wrong suggestion to the customer, it might have negative consequences. Therefore, Walmart has a brilliant idea- personalization of product substitution with AI.
This AI-driven Product substitution system aims to identify the next best item for customers if their selected item is out of stock. To achieve this goal, the deep learning AI in real-time learns hundreds of variables, including size, type, brand, price, aggregate shopper data, individual customer preference, current inventory and more. Besides constant learning on customers' preferences based on given data, the AI would also pre-emptively ask the customer to approve the product suggestions to improve the algorithm's accuracy.
Walmart believes the product substitution system is both beneficial to their customers and their employees. While the customers can get a good substitution suggestion from the system, the employees can focus on other tasks to serve the customers better.
Captured from Walmart, "Our goal is never to be out of stock and never to have substitutions. But, when it happens, the technology we've built helps ensure customers get the next best thing." Ultimately, Walmart intends to provide the best value to its customers. They are achieving that with the assistance of technical tools.
2. Robot assistants
Walmart introduced their use of robot assistants back in 2019 to replace labours on repetitive tasks, for example, cleaning floors and checking inventory on a shelf. Each of their smart robots serves different purposes.
The shelf scanner robots are implemented with computer vision. They can automatically scan items on stores shelves. They ensure item availability, location accuracy and price accuracy. Corporated with shelf scanners, Walmart also uses autonomous unloaders to ensure the product accuracy and efficiency of product unloading. The unloaders scan and sorts items unloaded according to priority and department. The collaboration of the two improves the general process of placing products on the shelves.
Walmart is constantly learning and testing new technologies to improve its services. They have innovated drone delivery, an experimental and contactless delivery method, during the pandemic last year. This technology aims at ensuring the safety of their employees and customers by enabling contactless shopping experiences. The drones are equipped with brilliant AI with computer vision. However, this delivery method is still currently in experiments and not in wide usage. Despite the limitations and challenges that drone delivery faces, this could be a new delivery standard in the future.
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How Walmart is Using A.I. To Make Smarter Substitutions in Online Grocery Orders
Location Facts (walmart.com)
Walmart Goes Faster Forward with Tech - CES 2022
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