Walmart and Sam’s Club Reveal New Retail Technology at CES: AI, Computer Vision, and Drones

Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman

Walmart Inc. unveiled several new retail technologies at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which its namesake stores and Sam’s Club locations are trialing and expanding.

The retailer claims these new technologies will enable it to deliver a new type of commerce – adaptive retail – which is customer-centric, interconnected, and frictionless.

“While omnichannel retail has been around for decades, this new type of retail – adaptive retail – takes it a step further,” said Suresh Kumar, global chief technology officer and chief development officer, Walmart Inc. “It’s retail that is not only e-commerce or in-store, but a single, unified retail experience that seamlessly blends the best aspects of all channels. And for Walmart, adaptive retail is rooted in a clear focus on people.”

Technology revealed ranged from a 10-club pilot in which Sam’s Club is trialing artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision to eliminate queuing at the club’s exit area, to a beta social commerce platform and drone expansion plans. 

Below we break down the new retail tech and expansion plans Walmart revealed this week.

Walmart’s Technology Plans

 

sam's club tech
A combination of computer vision and digital technology deployed in the exit area of the club captures images of carts and verifies payment for all items within a Sam's Club member’s basket. Credit: Walmart

AI and Computer Vision for Exit

Sam’s Club’s is currently running pilots across 10 Sam’s Club locations on a first-of-its-kind application of AI and computer vision technology to eliminate queuing at the club’s exit area. The technology is used to seamlessly confirm members have paid for all items in their shopping carts – without requiring an associate to check members’ purchases before leaving the club. Before this, members were slowed by queuing at the club’s exit area, which required Sam’s Club exit greeters to review receipts. 

Now, after a member completes payment at a register or via Scan & Go, a combination of computer vision and digital technology deployed in the exit area of the club captures images of carts and verifies payment for all items within a member’s basket, with AI working in the background to continually speed up the process. With AI constantly learning and improving across Sam’s Club’s thousands of items and exit transactions at multiple locations, the company said it will continue iterating and enhancing the technology through early 2024, planning to rapidly expand it to its nearly 600 clubs by the end of the year. 

drone
A Zipline drone making a Walmart delivery. Credit: Walmart.

Drone Delivery Expansion

Walmart is expanding its drone delivery to 1.8 million additional households (up to 75% of the area) in the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, metroplex. The drone delivery expansion includes stores across more than 30 towns and municipalities in the DFW metroplex, marking the first time a U.S. retailer has offered drone delivery to this many households in a single market. 

The deliveries will be powered by on-demand drone delivery providers Wing and Zipline. Both are approved by the FAA to fly their drones without a dedicated observer being able to see the drone at all times, known as Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

Drone delivery gets items to customers in 30 minutes or less, and some deliveries can happen as fast as 10 minutes, the retailer said. Of the 120,000 items in a Walmart Supercenter, 75% meet the size and weight requirements for drone delivery. Over the last two years trialing drone delivery, Walmart has completed over 20,000 safe deliveries, it said. 

“Customers will have access to a broad assortment of items from Walmart available for delivery to their home in just minutes,” said Prathibha Rajashekhar, senior vice president, Innovation & Automation, Walmart U.S. “Drone delivery is not just a concept of the future, it’s happening now and will soon be a reality for millions of additional Texans.”

ai assistant
Associates in 11 countries (Walmart will add India and South Africa this year) will be able to interact with the My Assistant tool in their native language. Credit: Walmart

GenAI My Assistant Expansion for Associates

Last August, Walmart launched a generative AI (GenAI) tool for U.S. and Canada campus-based associates called My Assistant, created in-house by Walmart’s tech team. Walmart announced it plans to expand the proprietary My Assistant tool to 11 countries in 2024. Walmart said U.S. associates are already using the tool to get to first drafts faster, summarize large documents in seconds, and spark creativity with thought starters on a variety of topics.

Associates in 11 countries (Walmart will add India and South Africa this year) will be able to interact with the tool in their native language, and the tool will be loaded with Walmart-specific knowledge. Walmart expects 25,000 associates in its international markets to have access to the tool this year – a 50% increase in the user base. In 2023, My Assistant launched to 50,000 campus associates in the U.S.

“We were early believers in the power of GenAI as a tool for our associates,” said Donna Morris, Walmart’s chief people officer. “In fact, we took our first GenAI-powered associate tool from vision to viable in about 60 days, thanks to the strong technology foundation we have put in place.”

GenAI-Powered Search 

A new GenAI-powered search experience,  which generates relevant, cross-category results, is now available on iOS for all customers with the latest version of the Walmart app (23.47 and above) and logged into their Walmart account. The enhanced search experience allows customers to now search by specific use cases, e.g., a football watch party versus individual searches for chips, wings, drinks, and a 90-inch TV.

GenAI search can also account for a variety of other factors, such as location, search history, and other contextual information, to further refine results for customers. Walmart said it uses a combination of Walmart proprietary data and technology and large language models, including those available in Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, as well as retail-specific models built by Walmart. The new design serves up a curated list of the best items a shopper is looking for.

Social Commerce Platform

Walmart revealed a beta social commerce platform called Shop with Friends. The augmented reality (AR) shopping enables customers to share the virtual outfits they create with friends and get feedback on their fashion finds.  

Shop with Friends uses the underlying capabilities of augmented reality virtual try-on, generative AI, commerce API, and more. By utilizing Shop with Friends, customers will be able to mix and match apparel items to create virtual outfits on a model with similar sizing and shape. Users will have the flexibility to create multiple outfits and share their fashion finds with friends to ask for their feedback. The tool integrates with popular mobile sharing applications. Each invited user can "heart" their favorite looks, contributing to the decision-making process. 

“We know that shopping is more fun and engaging with friends, so Shop with Friends takes virtual try-on to the next level by making the shopping experience a social one,” the retailer said. 

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