Walmart recently announced a transformation of one of its Neighborhood Market locations into a store with tons of cameras, sensors, data processors and cabling to connect it all.
The company calls this Levittown, N.Y., location the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), and it allows Walmart to test the latest technologies in a real grocery environment.
“We’ve got 50,000 square feet of real retail space. The scope of what we can do operationally is so exciting,” Mike Hanrahan, CEO of IRL, said in a news release. “Technology enables us to understand so much more — in real time — about our business. When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates.”
Improvements in the perimeter departments are something that artificial intelligence can enable, Hanrahan asserts.
“Customers can be confident about products being there, about the freshness of produce and meat,” he said. “Those are the types of things that AI can really help with.”
For example, the technology can tell from cameras and real-time analytics when a display needs to be restocked.
Other practical problems that could be addressed include making sure shopping carts are always available and that additional registers are opened before long lines form.
IRL is currently focused on those kinds of applications rather than more futuristic ones.
“You can’t be overly enamored with the shiny object element of AI,” Hanrahan said in the release. “There are a lot of shiny objects out there that are doing things we think are unrealistic to scale and probably, long-term, not beneficial for the consumer.”
The technology is a prominent feature of the store not only from an operations perspective but from a marketing perspective, with kiosks and handouts that explain to shoppers what this store’s purpose is and how it works.
“We chose right from the very start to not hide the technology,” Hanrahan said.
Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, also has a designated store where it experiments with different technologies — Sam’s Club Now.