How Walmart transformed a supermarket into an Intelligent Retail Lab

Date : 25 April 2019

Stewart Samuel

Program Director - Canada

We look at how Walmart has transformed an existing supermarket into a live retail lab to understand how artificial intelligence can be used to improve the customer experience. 

Understanding how artificial intelligence can help improve the customer experience

To create the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), Walmart has equipped an existing 50,000 sq ft Neighborhood Market in Levittown, New York with artificial intelligence-enabled cameras, interactive displays and a data centre. It has been developed to enable the retailer to understand how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to improve the in-store experience. Initially the IRL will focus on data-gathering, helping the retailer to better understand what delivers a customer benefit and what is potentially scalable.

Source: Walmart

Practical use cases, focused initially on product availability

Developed as part of Walmart’s Store No.8 tech incubator, the IRL will initially be used to understand how the technology could be used to improve product availability. The combination of the cameras and real-time analytics will identify when products are likely to go out-of-stock, triggering a notification within an associate app to re-stock the products. The technology must be able to detect each individual product and compare current availability to forecast sales demand. This will enable Walmart to prioritise replenishment routines for its store associates. The technology will also be used to understand when shopping carts need to be collected and how many checkouts need to be open.

Source: Walmart

Providing shoppers with opportunities to learn about the technology

While the look and feel of the store will be familiar to Neighborhood Market shoppers, it features several distinct elements. Walmart has made a conscious decision to make the technology visible to shoppers. These include a glass-encased data centre bathed in a blue glow, multiple information stations which enable customers to understand how AI is being applied, an interactive wall demonstrating how AI can be used to estimate body positioning and a front of store welcome centre.

Source: Walmart

Builds on launch of Sam’s Club Now live retail lab

This launch builds on the opening of Sam’s Club Now, in Dallas, late last year. This is a unique club concept, developed to enable the retailer to test the latest tech-led initiatives and adapt the in-store layout. Envisioned as a technology lab, it enables the retailer to incubate, test and refine technologies within a live store environment. The goal is to build a customer experience which will be relevant for consumers today and in the future.

Source: Sam’s Club

This will be the only club of this type, although learnings and best practices will be rolled-out across the broader network. At 32,000 sq ft it is significantly smaller than a traditional club. One of the key differences at this club is that all members use the retailer’s Scan & Go app to shop the club, creating a check-out free experience.

Equipping the business for the digitisation of retail

Both these developments bring to life the pace of change and innovative approach which underpins Walmart’s future-focused strategy. It is determined to play a leadership role in shaping the store of the future and understand how it can apply new technologies for both operational and customer benefit. They also highlight the gap which it is opening up on many of its peer group in the US, undertaking significantly deeper investments in these areas. Along with the use of in-store robotics, self-driving vehicles and virtual reality, the business is transforming the nature of work within its stores, building a workforce which is equipped with the capabilities for the digitisation of retail.

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