The US retail giant recently debuted a new type of store it described as the “store of the future”. The plan is to use this store as the company’s testing grounds for technology. And while the end goal is to compete with Amazon Go retail stores, this Walmart store is not quite there yet, though it's still quite innovative and makes you wonder what all Walmart stores will look like a decade from now.
Walmart took a regular Walmart Neighborhood Market, which has been serving customers in Levittown, New York, kept the cash registers and more than 100 employees, sprinkled in some futuristic retail experiences, and called it the The Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL). And it's now open for business.
IRL is similar to Amazon Go in that it has AI-powered cameras on the ceiling, but how they’re being used is different. Amazon Go is a cashless, grab-and-go convenience store, but for some, this has proven to be a headache. Some states in the US have even begun drafting legislation to ban cashless stores. Walmart is therefore focusing its technology on helping employees - not just customers.
Walmart is trying to perfect the AI-enabled cameras in its store to detect products on shelves, with the purpose of either alerting employees when an item needs to be restocked or when an item has been on a shelf too long and needs to be pulled. Ideally, it would ensure there is always fresh products available when you visit. Meanwhile, Walmart employees should see their workflows streamlined.
This is still a work in progress, as there’s a lot of factors in using the technology. The AI has to be able to recognise products and potential demand. It’s not enough to just spot when a hamburger needs to be restocked, but whether it’s the one or three-pound package customers want most. Walmart said the cameras and other sensors throughout the IRL store generate about 1.6TB of data every day.
To help manage all this data, IRL has a system of servers right in the building, which are on display to customers. The company is trying to make customers more comfortable with the collection of their data, so there’s a welcome center and multiple information stations across the store to answer any and all customers questions about the new technology being used in the store.
Sure, the IRL is not as flashy as Amazon Go... but it certainly has potential.