Retail juggernaut Walmart unveiled a suite of new technologies leveraging artificial intelligence and drones at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show, offering a glimpse into the company’s vision for the future of adaptive retail.
In his opening keynote, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon introduced products powered by generative AI, computer vision, augmented reality, and drone delivery, which he posited will enable personalized and flexible shopping experiences he calls “adaptive retail.”
“While omnichannel retail has been around for decades, adaptive retail takes it a step further,” said Suresh Kumar, Walmart’s global chief technology officer. “It’s retail that seamlessly blends the best aspects of all channels and is rooted in a focus on people.”
Headlining Walmart’s CES showcase is a new iOS search feature harnessing generative AI to deliver enhanced product recommendations based on natural language prompts. Users can ask for football watch party essentials rather than searching for specific items, with AI generating tailored cross-category suggestions.
The launch builds on Walmart’s October debut of an AI chatbot assistant providing personalized party planning and home decor advice during shopping sessions. With Amazon yet to introduce comparable offerings, Walmart’s generative search could give it a leg up in AI-powered product discovery.
In another AI application, Walmart will pilot automated online shopping carts for frequently purchased grocery staples via its InHome smart delivery service, essentially replacing manually configured subscriptions. The AI will study customer behavior to add and remove items over time as needs change, though shoppers can also edit suggested carts.
On the computer vision front, Sam’s Club locations are testing cashier-less checkout technology to validate members completed sales using camera footage of shopping cart contents when exiting stores, aiming to eliminate receipt verification lines.
Walmart is also expanding availability of My Assistant, an AI writing and productivity tool for employees, to 130,000 associates across 11 countries in 2024 by adding multilingual capabilities.
Augmented reality similarly factors prominently into Walmart’s roadmap with an AR social shopping platform called Shop with Friends enabling virtual try-ons and outfit feedback from contacts. It combines existing virtual dressing room technology with social features to court younger demographics.
But Walmart is also pursuing drone delivery to achieve faster order turnarounds, having now conducted over 20,000 autonomous drone deliveries in its two-year pilot across Dallas-Ft. Worth. It recently expanded the metro coverage to 1.8 million households in partnership with UAV partners Wing and Zipline and noted 75% of Walmart inventory meets drone size requirements.
McMillon took care to stress Walmart would implement emerging technologies like AI responsibly by focusing first on improving people’s lives, ackowledging some existing jobs will be eliminated as a result. He was joined on stage by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whose Azure powers some of Walmart’s retail AI.
With Amazon racing to modernize Whole Foods stores and retail processes with justice-oriented AI, computer vision and drone infrastructure, Walmart’s tech vision clearly aims higher by pursuing an “adaptive” approach it believes transcends omni-channel to embed cutting edge technology directly into the shopping journey itself. Its AI and drone gambles appear tailored to court younger, convenience-driven consumers in a bid to maintain its retail dominance in an increasingly competitive sector.