Walmart isn’t going to let Amazon’s AI-powered stores go unanswered, although it’s not exactly cloning the concept. The big-box chain has unveiled a publicly accessible concept store, the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL for short), in Levittown, New York. The location uses computer vision and a vast array of cameras not to handle purchases, like Amazon Go does, but to help employees restock empty shelves and corral shopping carts. There are still checkout lines and floor staff, Walmart notes — this is meant to minimize drudgery for workers and free them for tasks “humans can do best,” like helping customers.
The retailer is aware of the potential worries about privacy, and is determined to be as open about what’s going on as possible. The cameras and even the data center are clearly on display, while educational kiosks and a Welcome Center are strewn throughout the store to answer questions. It even tries to humanize the technology through an interactive display that mimics the behavior of passers-by Walmart added that it only keeps data for less than a week, so there won’t be a permanent record of shopping activity no matter how anonymous it might be.
Whether or not Walmart will really preserve jobs in the long run is up for debate when the company has made a point of putting robots in its stores. However, there’s undoubtedly pressure on the chain to deploy AI more broadly. Amazon is believed to be testing its checkout-free technology in larger-scale store formats. If Walmart doesn’t act, it risks losing customers who might be drawn by Amazon’s promise of a seamless experience.