Walmart is not resting on its laurels. The world’s largest retailer shared expansive plans for the future of retail at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2024), focusing on adaptive retail strategies that encompass realms of customers, workforce and society. In a keynote presentation, Walmart president and CEO, Doug McMillon, said that the company is building technology to serve people and not the other way around. “Walmart’s purpose is to help people live better, and today, more th
ore than ever, advances in technology make it feel like anything is possible. Our technology roadmap is compelling and we’re very excited about it, but we’re clear that we are a people-led, tech-powered company. People, our customers and associates, come first and we’ll put technology to work to serve them better than ever,” he said. Embracing AI Walmart’s goal is to make shopping experiences effortless, engaging and personalised. Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) will ultimately play a role in enabling this vision. A new GenAI search experience, which is live on iOS for all customers within the latest version of its app, is now available for all customers who are logged into their Walmart account. There is also a new AR feature called ‘Shop With Friends’. It’s essentially a ‘Virtual Try-On’ service that becomes a social experience. Customers will be able to share their fashion finds with friends and ask for their feedback. This feature is a social commerce platform that will allow customers 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 finds with their friends. It should be noted that IDC is projecting that GenAI will add nearly $10 trillion to global GDP over the next 10 years. Interestingly, FTI Consulting data also shows that nearly 80 per cent of online shoppers believe AI personalisation can enhance their online experience. InHome replenishment Back in 2019, Walmart launched the ‘InHome’ service for pickup and delivery options for customers. Building on the success of this program, Walmart has now developed ‘InHome Replenishment’, an added time-saving solution that provides customers with peace of mind. This is an AI-powered feature that uses a personalised algorithm to anticipate needs and place orders delivered directly to customers’ pantries or fridges. The algorithm learns what customers purchase regularly, and it will record the quantities and frequency of these purchases too. With that information, a customer’s online shopping cart is filled with the right items at the appropriate time. Customers have complete control over it, they can skip items not needed, add additional items or adjust their delivery date and time if needed. This new service will automate the shopping experience, from basket building to delivery. According to Suresh Kumar, global chief technology officer and chief development officer at Walmart, “While omnichannel retail has been around for decades, this new type of retail – adaptive retail – takes it a step further.” Updates at Sam’s Club Owned by Walmart, Sam’s Club is a leading membership warehouse club that offers savings to millions of members in nearly 600 clubs across the US and Puerto Rico. Now, a first-of-a-kind AI and computer vision technology will enable seamless club exits for its members. Currently running pilots across 10 locations, the technology is used to confirm members have paid for all items in their shopping carts, without requiring an associate to check members’ purchases before leaving the club. Now, after a member completes payment at a register or via the ‘Scan & Go’ solution, 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. Walmart aims to rapidly expand this tech to its nearly 600 clubs by the end of the year. The ‘Scan & Go’ solution allows members to use the Sam’s Club mobile app to bypass the traditional checkout line in the club, as well as fuel stations and cafes. Enhanced drone deliveries Walmart is also aiming to offer drone deliveries for up to 75 per cent of the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) population. The company is building on its momentum with the largest drone delivery footprint of any US retailer. According to Prathiba Rajeshekar, senior vice president of innovation and automation at Walmart, customers will have access to a broad assortment of items from Walmart available for delivery to their homes in just minutes. The drone delivery expansion will include stores across more than 30 towns and municipalities in the DFW metroplex. The deliveries will be powered by on-demand drone delivery providers, Wing and Zipline. Drone delivery gives customers an even faster delivery option, getting items delivered in 30 minutes or less and some deliveries can happen as fast as 10 minutes. Over the last two years, the company has completed over 20,000 deliveries. An emission-free future As of 2022, Walmart has been powering 47 per cent of its operations with renewable energy. The company aims to add one gigawatt of new clean energy on-site, such as solar and storage, by the end of 2030. According to Vishal Kapadia, senior vice president for energy transformation at Walmart, the company is working to make clean energy accessible and more affordable for its customers and members. By the end of 2030, the company is aiming to advance its transition as a society towards emissions-free energy by enabling up to 10 gigawatts of new clean energy – equivalent to the annual power consumption of more than 2 million households. The company also intends to build its own EV-fast charging network at thousands of Walmart and Sam’s Club locations coast-to-coast by the end of 2030. This would be in addition to the 1,300 EV fast charging stations available at more than 280 facilities in the US.