Walmart Introduces AI to Retail
Walmart has recently opened a store in Levittown, New York, that is supposed to display the utility of artificial intelligence.
Revealed last week, the store is packed with video cameras, screens and over a hundred servers, seeming more like a corporate data centre than a discount retailer.
That expensive machinery assists Walmart in automatically tracking inventory so that is aware when toothpaste is running low or that the orange juice needs restocking. The company’s ultimate aim is to create “a glimpse into the future of retail,” when robots and computers, rather than humans, are expected to do a lot of retail’s manual work.
Walmart’s charge into artificial intelligence emphasises how retailers are increasingly connecting data crunching to their physical stores. But it also reveals some of the potential disadvantages as customers grow increasing suspicious of technology amid an endless stream of privacy issues within companies such as Facebook.
Walmart isn’t the only one trying to reinvent itself in a sector that is facing a huge threat from tech companies such as Amazon. For example, the grocery chain Kroger said, in early 2019, that it had asked Microsoft to help it build two “connected experience” stores in which customers could get personalised deals — possibly on their smartphones — as they walk in or on screens mounted on shelves. Equipping these stores with such technology could be a lucrative market for companies such as Microsoft that want to sell computing power to retailers.
There is even a name for this emerging market: edge computing. However, there is no guarantee that retailers will be saved by it, as customers may dislike cameras tracking their movements while they walk up and down the store and being bombarded by screens displaying offers.
In anticipation of such blowback, Walmart has equipped its new store with kiosks that inform shoppers about the technology installed. For retailers to be successful, shoppers must feel comfortable about how their data is being used and with how they are being tracked. Companies that are a proponent of AI as the future should not just assume that everyone will agree.