Technology, including drone delivery and artificial intelligence (AI), is part of what will drive growth and customer engagement at Walmart. That was the main theme of Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and other top executives at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week.
Advances in technology mean anything is possible, McMillon said. The retailer’s roadmap is compelling as it continues to be a people-driven, technology-enhanced omnichannel retailer, he said.
“We love what technology can do, but are we building it in a way that creates better careers? At the same time, it creates a better customer experience and business performance. We use technology to serve people, not the other way around,” McMillon said.
Walmart is working with Microsoft to improve Walmart.com’s online search and search features, McMillon said. According to him, the next-generation search experience powered by artificial intelligence provides users with a more convenient shopping trip. When shoppers search for items like “football watch party,” the algorithm pulls up a wide variety of appetizers and other party supplies so the shopper can find what they need with one search. This feature is now live on iOS Apple technology and will come to other platforms as well.
AI search also uses location, search history and other contextual data to further improve results for customers. McMillon said the technology uses a combination of Walmart’s proprietary data and technology and large language models, including those available in the Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service and retail-specific models built by Walmart. The new design presents a curated list of the best products a shopper can search for.
Sam’s Club chief merchant Megan Crozier said the wholesale club is now testing AI that will automatically scan members’ receipts when they use the Scan & Go option with their mobile phones. He said members would no longer have to stand at the door to check their receipts. They will simply go through an archway and be allowed to exit the club with their basket checked out.
The Scan & Go function already allows members to skip the checkout line, and now the AI arch enables faster checkout without stopping at the door. It’s being tested at nine clubs in the Dallas metro area and one in Joplin, Mo., and will be live at all 600 clubs by the end of the year, Crozier said.
He said a record number of members are using Scan & Go, making it the most used shopping app in US brick-and-mortar retail. He said Sam’s uses artificial intelligence with a “Did you forget” prompt to remind members that they haven’t bought an item they regularly buy.
Walmart US chief merchandising officer Latriece Watkins said the retailer is developing and beta-testing a new feature called “Shop with Friends,” a social commerce platform that leverages the core capabilities of augmented reality, virtual testing and other technologies. . Using Shop with Friends, customers will be able to mix and match clothing items to create a virtual outfit in a similar size and shape. Users will then be able to share their fashion finds with friends and ask for their feedback. Watkins said the feature integrates mobile sharing apps that allow friends to interact with the recipient and comment on their favorite looks with heart emojis. Watkins said the social shopping feature will be available to online shoppers in the coming weeks.
Also at CES, Walmart unveiled an update to its 2019 InHome business, a service-as-a-service designed to make shopping easier and more convenient. The InHome app allows customers to place their order in their home or refrigerator. Walmart said it now offers InHome Replenishment, an AI-powered feature that uses a personalized replenishment algorithm to predict and schedule orders delivered to customers’ warehouses and refrigerators.
The technology learns what customers regularly buy, how much of those items, and how often they buy. With that information, the customer’s online shopping cart is filled with the right goods at the right time.
“So when customers open their fridge for milk, instead of having nothing, they’re getting something,” said Whitney Pegden, vice president of New Offers and Pre-Deals at Walmart US.
Pedgen said customers will have full control and will be able to skip items they don’t need, add new items to an order and adjust delivery dates and times as their busy schedules dictate.
“The new top-up service will automate the entire shopping experience, from cart creation to delivery. We’ll be excited for customers to try out this new innovation when it launches,” said Pedgen.
Prathibha Rajeshekhar, who oversees supply chain automation and innovation at US stores and Walmart, also took the stage at CES to discuss the expansion of drone delivery in metro Dallas. He said Walmart operates drone deliveries that complete deliveries to more than 20,000 customers with 37 centers located in seven states. Rajeshekhar said 75% of the 120,000 items in the Walmart supercenter meet the size and weight requirements for drone delivery.
Working with partners Zipline and Wing, Walmart said it has expanded drone delivery to more than 30 cities and municipalities in Dallas-Fort Worth, or about 75% of households in the metro area. The delivery distance is 10 miles from the center and deliveries are received within 30 minutes and as fast as 10 minutes.
“Drone delivery isn’t just a concept of the future, it’s happening now and will soon become a reality for millions more Texans,” he said.
McMillon said Walmart’s focus on technology is intentional and necessary to usher in the next era of retail. He reiterated that technology does not come before people in his organization, but will be used to improve operations for Walmart’s employees, customers and business results.