Levittown, NY – The retail apocalypse. It’s the looming reality that many of our favorite brick and mortar stores are closing their doors as online giants like Amazon swoop in and drive consumers toward digital alternatives. Even massive retailers like Walmart have felt the pressure, forcing the brand to close over a hundred of its stores across the globe over the last few years. But, the fight for brick and mortar isn’t over yet. In fact, Walmart may have found a new solution – artificial intelligence.
Meet the Intelligent Retail Lab(IRL) – an artificially powered concept store being tested in one of Walmart’s popular Long Island Neighborhood Market grocery stores. It spans 50,000 square feet and houses over 30,000 items. The ceilings are lined with thousands of cameras that can track the smallest of details such as how ripe an individual banana is based on its color. AI then turns data into action by alerting employees when it’s time to change the fruit.
“It’s a unique real-world shopping environment designed to explore the possibilities artificial intelligence can contribute to the store experience,” wrote Matt Smith in a blog post on the company’s website.
In the promotional video alone, the store is nothing short of impressive. From the AI enabled cameras to interactive, educational displays, Walmart is finding an innovative way to use tech to help consumers rethink the brick and mortar retail shopping experience. And if that’s not enough, the underlying computer system is said to have enough processing power to download 27,000 hours (or three years) worth of music each second. And for the technologically savvy, the data center boasts over 400 graphics processing units (GPUs) and 10 cooling towers to prevent overheating.
Outside of its appeal to consumers, this store of the future is also making operational responsibilities easier for its employees.
If you’ve ever worked in retail, then you know the pain of constantly stalking aisles in search of items that need to be re-stocked. With AI, Walmart is incorporating systems that can automatically detect out-of-stock items and send a signal to an employee for replenishment with no unhappy customers involved. In addition, the new tech will be able to collect data on when shopping carts need to be gathered or when registers need to be staffed.
“One day, the efficiencies being explored in IRL could lead to enhancements that help associates all over the country in the future. That part isn’t science fiction. It’s a journey that’s beginning now in Levittown, New York … in real life,” according to the blog post.
Why This Matters
While Walmart is not the pioneer of incorporating AI into physical retail locations, IRL does mark a progressive step forward for brands accepting the emergence of artificial intelligence. In healthcare, hospitals are bringing in AI to perform surgeries, make appointments and even tend to patients during their stay. From operational efficiencies to a better customer experience, AI may pave the way toward how we rethink our future interactions with consumers.
While some argue that artificial intelligence isn’t quite the hero we make it out to be, one thing is clear – it’s here to stay.