First Look: Walmart’s Store of the Future
Walmart is exploring how artificial intelligence can contribute to the store experience in a real-world shopping environment. The mega retailer has opened its Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL) inside a Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Levittown, NY.
The store uses thousands of cameras suspended from the ceiling, as well as other technology such as sensors on shelves, to monitor the store in real time, the AP reports. The goal is to allow employees to quickly replenish products or fix other problems. The tech spots spills, tracks when shelves need to be restocked and knows when shopping carts are running low.
All this hardware is connected by enough cabling to scale Mt. Everest five times and enough processing power to download three years’ worth of music each second, according to Walmart.
In the near future Walmart expects that in IRL a combination of cameras and real-time analytics will automatically trigger out-of-stock notifications to internal apps that alert associates when to re-stock. To do this the store has to detect the product on the shelf, recognize the specific product and compare the quantities on the shelf to the upcoming sales demand. The result is that associates will know what to bring out of the back room before customers show up.
Walmart says IRL will be in data-gathering mode in its early days, with a focus on learning from the technology, not implementing changes to operations in haste. IRL’s more than 100 associates will be undertaking these retail experiments every day.
“We think it’s something our associates will be excited about,” said Mike Hanrahan, CEO of IRL.
“The technology has been built to improve associates’ jobs, to make their jobs more interesting, to help them alleviate some of the mundane tasks. AI can enhance their skillset in a very rapidly changing world.”
The Customer Experience
A Welcome Center greets shoppers at the front end of IRL, which allows customers to dive deeper into technical specifications and common questions. Walking through IRL shoppers will see a glass-encased data center bathed in blue glow. The store also includes information stations for customers to visit to understand how artificial intelligence (AI) makes the store tick. As customers shop, they can interact with educational displays. Small educational kiosks are interspersed throughout the store.
Outside the Data Center where the servers are housed are two large displays – one of which encourages participants to move around and learn how technology reacts to body positioning.
“We chose right from the very start to not hide the technology,” said Hanrahan.