Last week, Walmart officially opened its Intelligent Retail Lab inside a 50,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market grocery store on Long Island.
As you can see in the picture above, there are cameras suspended from the ceiling and sensors on shelves, which monitor the store in real time. These seem to be more for employees benefit though, rather than to enable Amazon Go-like cashierless shopping. The press release stated that they were there to spot spills, track when shelves need to be restocked and “determine how ripe bananas are from their color” – workers getting alerts on their phone if anything needs to be replaced, products replenished or other problems fixed.
We are told that Walmart hopes to start scaling some of the new technology at other stores in the next six months, with an eye toward lower costs and thus lower prices – no doubt as the shopping experience improves, the retailer expects to see higher sales.
Mike Hanrahan, CEO of Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab and co-founder of Jet.com, purchased by Walmart three years ago said “We really like to think of this store as an artificial intelligence factory, a place where we are building these products, experiences, where we are testing and learning”.
“The cameras are programmed to focus primarily on the products and shelves right now. Sensors embedded in shelves will give the store extra information because they know what’s at the back of the shelves that the cameras can’t see. Cameras do not recognize faces, determine the ethnicity of a person picking up a product or track the movement of shoppers.
This retail lab is the third project from Walmart’s new incubation arm, created after the Jet.com acquisition as a way for the discounter to shape the future of retail and the second in a Walmart physical store. In 2018 Walmart’s Sam’s Club opened a 32,000-square foot lab store, where it is testing new features surrounding the Scan & Go App, which lets customers scan items as they shop and then buy from their phones, skipping the checkout line.