Walmart puts AI to the test in an in-store lab
Walmart is opening a laboratory inside a small Walmart in Levittown, NY to test artificial intelligence (AI) applications for both associates and shoppers.
The Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), according to TechCrunch, will see how AI can be used to identify low stocks on shelves, when items are on the wrong shelf and spillages. Walmart is also looking for a better understanding of when shopping carts are running low near the store’s entrance, according to the report.
Hardware, software and other equipment have been installed, but the lab is not yet operational. IRL is part of Walmart’s incubator Store No. 8. and being led by the Kepler Project. The Kepler team, according to past reports, is also testing computer vision and cashier-less technologies similar to the Amazon Go experience.
In late October, Sam’s Club said it was opening a cashier-less concept in Dallas that enables shoppers to use its Now app to not only pay for purchases, but access smart shopping lists, store maps and augmented reality tech to access product information. Like IRL, some features support store operations.
“We’ll test electronic shelf labels that will instantly update prices, removing the need to print and replace new item price signs,” said Jamie Iannone, CEO, SamsClub.com and EVP of Membership and Technology, in a blog post. “And down the road, we’ll use the more than 700 cameras in the club to help us manage inventory in new ways and optimize the layout to make shopping effortless.”
Many emerging AI-powered solutions promise to bring automation and advanced forecasting to in-store functions while working in sync with robotics, RFID and other technologies.
Afresh Technologies, a start-up based in San Francisco, for instance, uses machine learning and AI to improve demand forecasting to help optimize in-store replenishment of fresh food. Founder Matt Schwartz recently told The Spoon, “We believe there’s a dearth of intelligence in the fresh food supply chain, and as of now inventory solutions are often really inaccurate.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will artificial intelligence be a game changer for inventory optimization, labor scheduling or other aspects of in-store operations? Will the biggest such AI-benefits come from enabling automation to reduce repetitive tasks or in areas such as forecasting and problem solving?