AI Has Already Changed the Way You Shop at Walmart and Sam's Club—Here's How
The big-box retailer has been dabbling in artificial intelligence for years.
Discussions about artificial intelligence—often shortened to AI—have been picking up steam lately. It's unclear how this developing technology will fit into our lives in the future, but it is clear that it's already started to affect our daily routines, including shopping. More and more retailers are utilizing this form of computer science to simplify the shopping process, whether we're ready for it or not. Walmart and Sam's Club are just two stores where AI and machine learning are being put to work—and you might not even realize it. Read on to find out how AI is changing the way you shop.
Walmart's been dabbling in AI for years.
Walmart's website has a page dedicated to "AI and the Future of Retail," outlining its mission of using technology to "empower people" and creating "conveniences that benefit everyone." Last year, the company rolled out virtual fitting rooms called Choose My Model, allowing customers to use AI to "try on" clothes through the Walmart app. But Walmart has also made changes to brick-and-mortar stores.
In 2019, the company launched its Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL) at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Levittown, New York. According to a press release, the initiative was intended to help manage product inventory "more precisely" via AI-enabled cameras above the shelves. The store got new educational displays and kiosks for customer use, as well as more "fun" additions in the store's data center, where a large display allowed customers to move around and see how AI reacted to their positioning.
Now, Walmart is expanding this initiative—and you may not even realize it's already at your local store.
The big-box retailer uses floor scrubbers to keep track of inventory.
At both Walmart and Sam's Club, autonomous floor scrubbers play key roles in machine learning. Yes, you read that right, these cleaning machines are equipped with "inventory intelligence towers," CNBC reported. While they're sweeping the floors every day, they also take millions of pictures of the shelves to determine what needs restocking.
Since Oct. 2022, Sam's Club has had a smart floor scrubber at all 600 warehouses nationwide, with the machines keeping track of 6,000 products across roughly 136,000 square feet, per CNBC. The scrubbers were rolled out through a partnership with Brain Corp.
Best Life reached out to Walmart for comment on how it uses AI and will update the story upon hearing back.
A Walmart exec said that AI has streamlined the all-around experience for both shoppers and customers.
Anshu Bhardwaj, senior vice president of tech strategy and commercialization for Walmart, told CNBC that the scrubber algorithms are trained to recognize different brands and where they're positioned on the shelf, making sure to consider both light and shelf depth.
"What this means is that I can distinguish Kellogg's Froot Loops from Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and the depth in which they're stocked on the shelves," Bhardwaj told CNBC. "And if you think about a shelf, it doesn't always have items in the front. They could be stacked in the back and then there are shadows as well."
When they detect that an item needs replenishing, a notification is sent to the stock room. Bhardwaj adds that the algorithms are correct in their analyses 95 percent of the time. This ensures that the item on your list is ready and available when you shop in Walmart and Sam's Club stores.
What if there are no more supplies in the stock room, you ask? Walmart has an AI solution for that as well. When a shipment is scheduled, the algorithm will let an associate know they should bring the products out right away, instead of diverting them to the stock room. Not only does this streamline processes, but it's also upped productivity by 15 percent, Bhardwaj told CNBC.
"This is how we close the loop," she said. "We never want to be out of stock on any item."
Walmart tracks your buying habits.
AI is also integral to the Walmart app, which keeps track of when you last ordered an item, per CNBC. If you regularly shop at Walmart for diapers, for example, the app keeps track of the sizes you buy and determines if that's still the best option, depending on how much time has passed.
At Sam's Club, the membership system also logs customer purchases so that the company can better understand habits and preferences. "[Customers] are generating all these breadcrumbs about what they like and want and that's allowing us to make the shopping experience better," Bhardwaj told CNBC.
At the end of the day, all of these initiatives are intended to simplify your shopping—even for the most mundane items.
"I hate shopping for things like milk and toilet paper," Bhardwaj told the outlet. "We want to make the shopping experience for everyday items a no-brainer for our customers."