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Walmart AI IRL

Walmart AI IRL Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash

Last week Walmart opened its first AI-powered store in Levittown, New York. Called the Intelligent Retail Lab or, IRL; the store is the first of its kind. Exploring how AI technology can help stores like Walmart with everyday tasks like restocking; the IRL will monitor and track data that will give engineers the statistics they need to improve every facet of the store.

CEO of IRL, Mike Hanrahan is excited about the opportunities that the AI-enabled store can bring. “Technology enables us to understand so much more – in real time – about our business. When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates.” While it may be jumping the gun to say that the new technology-run store is the way of the future- it may be a game changer for the supply chain industry.

I for one wish that this technology was available a few years ago at a certain Stop and Shop I frequented regularly. I stopped going after a few visits because nothing was in stock and there were never enough cashiers open to ring me out. It didn’t matter if I went day or night- I always had the same problem. No stock and the lines were so long they were spilling into the aisles. Unless I really needed something, chances are I was going a few extra miles out of my way to another grocery store. According to Hanrahan’s data team, IRL is trying to ensure that situations like these don’t happen in the future.

Equipped with sensors, cables, cameras, and software; IRL monitors the life cycle of a product in a store. In the Intelligent Retail Lab, a product is tracked from the time it enters the store, gets stocked on the shelf, gets bought; and when a certain product needs to be restocked. While a big component of the store is to collect the data needed to ensure that future stores run smoothly and effectively; the data lets employees know in real time what tasks need to be accomplished. This saves employees time from checking the 50,000 square foot store for out-of-stock items. The IRL will also focus on improving other aspects of the store. For instance; insuring there are carts available; spills are cleaned; and registers are opened before long lines occur.

If you happen to venture to the Intelligent Retail Lab in Levittown, you will know that the store isn’t your typical Walmart. “We chose right from the very start to not hide the technology,” Hanrahan explained. In fact there are technology installations which the store invites patrons to interact with. There are screens that educate customers as well as demonstrations – a smart move for some customers who may not necessarily welcome this change.

The store is still collecting valuable data but the end goal is the same- ensure that shelves are stocked and registers are open to customers. This way patrons can purchase goods with limited hassles – a seamless process that would otherwise be chaotic on the retail stores’ busiest days.

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 Danielle Loughnane

Danielle Loughnane earned her B.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College and has currently been working in the data science field since 2015. She is the author of a comic book entitled, “The Superhighs” and wrote a blog from 2011-2015 about working in the restaurant industry called, "Sir I Think You've Had Too Much.” In her spare time she likes reading graphic novels and snuggling with her dogs.

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