Walmart opened their experimental, AI-powered store, called Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL). While it doesn’t use AI in the super-futuristic sense, like Amazon Go, it is focused on practical solutions that benefit the customer first and foremost.
The “incubation arm of Walmart,” Store №8, has launched a pilot store at one of their busiest locations, in Levittown, NY. (Who knew Walmart had a tech incubator??) The store has a huge amount of hardware installed to handle a huge amount of data. The cables connecting all of the hardware in the store could scale Mt. Everest five times and support 1.6 terabytes of data, which is the equivalent to 3 years of music.
The point of technology in this location is not just tech for tech’s sake. Instead of investing in “the shiny object element” of AI which is unrealistic to scale and can have a questionable benefit to the customer, IRL strives to start small and less glamorous. Walmart’s initial main focus areas will be inventory efficiency and freshness, cleanliness, and the smoothness of other small experiences like shopping cart availability and the proper amount of registers being open.
How the AI comes into play is through the thousands of little cameras speckling the ceiling that constantly keep an eye on the shelves as well as the rest of the store. Once out of data-gathering mode, the AI will be able to detect the exact item it’s looking at and recognize if it’s low. It also will compare the number of items on the shelf to the expected business that day.
Walmart’s hope in taking care of these more logistical tasks is to free up associate time to focus on the more human elements that can’t be replicated by a machine. So not only will AI enhance the customer experience, it’ll hopefully make Walmart associate’s job a little easier and more enjoyable as well.
Since its conception, Walmart has been clear about their desire for IRL’s technology to be visible to their customers. So while the store overall feels familiar, there are little interactive, tech-focused experiences peppered throughout the store. In addition to their data center being encased in clear glass and therefore visible to any and all customers, there are little information centers throughout the store where customers can learn more about the technology that has gone into making IRL what it is.
I think this transparency is a great step to getting customers comfortable with AI. Instead of people being scared about the unknown and worried for their privacy, they get to learn exactly what’s going on. I think this will go a long way to giving people peace of mind and getting them excited about developments, rather than leery.
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Hannah Michelle Lambert is the Social Media + Events Coordinator at Worthix, as well as the host of the monthly CX News Recap segment. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.