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Walmart introducing AI tech to shopping experience, CEO says at CES

Updated January 9, 2024 - 8:22 pm

Walmart is incorporating artificial intelligence into the retail experience through new features introduced at CES, president and CEO Doug McMillon said during a Tuesday keynote address.

Most prominently featured was the launch of a new generative AI search available that day to iOS app users. The new functions allow customers to search for products by use cases instead of by brand or product name. For instance, a customer could search “football watch party” and receive suggestions for chips, wings, drinks or a TV.

“We use large language models, including OpenAI and (Microsoft-owned) Azure, along with our own models that are retail and Walmart-specific,” McMillon said. “It’s our models and our data that put the finishing touches on this improved experience. Our new search fundamentally changes the way customers engage with us.”

Other mobile platforms are expected to roll out this quarter, he said.

During the keynote, McMillon brought Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on stage to discuss the implementation of AI. Nadella spoke broadly about its power, noting that Microsoft founder Bill Gates once spoke about the power of “information at your fingertips.”

“What we have in 2024 now is expertise at our fingertips and that’s what’s exciting for all of us,” Nadella said during the keynote.

Another AI function introduced during the keynote was Walmart InHome Replenishment. The service uses AI to learn a customer’s purchase patterns and determine the right pace to restock standard items.

Other technology announcements from Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, included the expansion of its drone delivery service in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area, where a two-year trial has been conducted. Walmart executives noted that packages could be delivered from stores up to 10 miles away within 30 minutes.

The program is targeted at shoppers who need last-minute purchases like cooking ingredients, over-the-counter medications and last-second gifts. Walmart said about three-in-four items in a super center’s inventory meet the size requirements for drone delivery.

McMillon and his team also introduced a beta augmented reality program called “Shop with Friends” that lets customers share virtual outfits they created with friends to get feedback on their shopping.

And the company is improving its scan-and-go shopping technology for Sam’s Club shoppers. Some exit queues – where customers normally must get their receipt scanned before leaving the shopping warehouse, often resulting in lines – will incorporate AI and computer vision technology to confirm purchases as the customer leaves. The program is in use at 10 locations and is expected to roll out to the nearly 600 Sam’s Clubs by the end of the year.

“We care about every second a member spends with us,” Megan Crozier, chief of merchandising for Sam’s Club, said during the keynote. “So eliminating even the few seconds it takes to scan a receipt at the exit door is well worth it.”

Other technology advances are meant to improve the company’s supply chain, increasing deployment of robotics at warehouses and the expansion of fast electric vehicle chargers at the company’s stores and clubs.

McMillon used part of his speech to acknowledge the potential jobs lost to technology.

“No doubt some tasks will go away and some roles will change,” he said. “ And some of them should, like the ones that involve lifting heavy weights or doing repetitive tasks. As that’s happening, we’re designing new roles that our associates tell us are more enjoyable and satisfying, and also often result in higher pay.”

This year marks the return of Walmart to the four-day technology trade show. The company last participated in CES in 2021 during the show’s all-virtual format.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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