Walmart: Boosting retail performance with Big Data, machine learning, AI and the IoT

Walmart: Boosting retail performance with Big Data, machine learning, AI and the IoT

Walmart may have been around since the 1960s, but the company is still on the cutting edge in terms of finding new ways to transform retail operations and provide a better service to customers. But its investment in innovation and new retail tech should come as no surprise – after all, Walmart is the world’s second largest online retailer.

How Walmart uses Big Data in Practice

Amazon.com may be its arch-rival when it comes to online sales, but Walmart has the upper hand in making the best of both worlds – as well as its online offering, Walmart has more than 11,000 brick-and-mortar shops. Now, the company is bringing together Big Data, machine learning, AI and the IoT to ensure a seamless experience between the online customer experience and the in-store experience.

One way Walmart is improving the customer experience is with ‘Scan and Go’ shopping. Pharmacy customers and those in the money services sections will be able to complete some aspects of the checkout process themselves using the Walmart app, and then bypass the regular queue, so they can get their shopping done faster. Ultimately, this is a step on the road to bypassing the entire checkout process at Walmart stores – using sensors, computer vision technology and machine learning, as seen in the Amazon Go concept store.

Another recent innovation is Pick-up Towers, launched in some stores. These convenient self-service kiosks, measuring 16 x 8 feet and placed at the store entrance, retrieve customers’ online orders for them. You simply scan the barcode from your online receipt and your product will appear on a conveyor belt within 45 seconds. The reaction from customers has been positive, rating the Pick-Up Towers as better than the traditional in-store pickup process.

Walmart may also explore the use of facial recognition to determine whether shoppers are happy or frustrated. Indeed, the company has already trialled this technology as a means to combat theft in stores. When it comes to customers’ emotions, machines would analyse facial expressions of queuing customers and learn to identify levels of frustration. When high levels are detected, the system could signal that additional associates are needed on the checkouts. Longer-term, the technology could potentially be used to analyse trends in customer behaviour.

Looking ahead, judging by a recent patent application, Walmart is exploring integrating IoT tags into products to monitor usage, keep an eye on expiration dates, and automatically replace products as necessary. For example, a tag reader on your refrigerator could scan all the products you put in it, and alert you when, say, you’re almost out of milk or your eggs are out of date. Or a similar system could be used to monitor how often you use your washing power and predict how long before you run out. The data could then be used to add products automatically to your shopping list. These IoT tags would rely on technology like barcodes, radio frequencies, RFID tags and Bluetooth, and would gift Walmart a huge amount of data on customer behaviour, including when and how often products are used.

The technical details

Walmart’s commitment to innovation is shown in its Store No.8 tech incubator in Silicon Valley, which aims to nurture retail tech, and invest in and work with start-ups, academics and so on in order to develop machine learning, AI and robotic technology, and more.

Ideas and insights you can steal

It’s important to note that just because a patent has been filed, it doesn’t mean the technology will in fact be implemented and made available to customers. But it’s certainly clear that Walmart has no intention of slowing down its focus and heavy investment in Big Data technology anytime soon. For Walmart, continually boosting operational performance and enhancing the customer experience through new technology is a central part of its success.


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Written by

Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.

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