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Walmart’s Latest Tech Will Eliminate Out-of-Stocks

Shelf-scanning technology is Walmart’s latest feat—adding automated devices, including AI and robots, in stores nationwide.

On Thursday, Walmart said it will use the new technology, to handle manual, predictable and repeatable operations in stores—including scanning shelves for out-of-stock items, checking for wrong or missing labels and fixing incorrect prices. The new technology—which is being tested in a select number of stores across the U.S.—will free up time for Walmart associates to continue to selling merchandise and serving consumers.

Walmart previously piloted the technology in a small number of stores in Arkansas, California and Pennsylvania. Following initial testing results, the retailer said it will expand the technology to an additional 50 locations nationwide, and collect feedback from associates and consumers on the technology’s progress and recommendations for additional modifications, throughout the rollout.

The shelf-scanning technology comes on the heels of Walmart’s other in-store innovations—including a Mobile Express Returns service and in-store pickup towers.

[Read more on how retailers are using technology to elevate their stores: How Big Box Retailers Are Using IoT to Heighten In-Store Experiences]

Earlier this month, Walmart rolled out Mobile Express Returns, a new service that makes in-store returns easier for consumers. Since Mobile Express Returns syncs up with Walmart’s store app, consumers can initiate returns themselves, receive a QR code and then scan the code in the Mobile Express Lane at the customer service area of their local store. Instead of waiting in long lines, consumers can return their items quickly and receive refunds within a 24-hour window.

In July, Walmart added more pickup towers in stores nationwide. With the towers, consumers can order products online and pick them up at any Walmart location without paying for shipping fees. And when they visit a store with the pickup offering to collect their order, they can scan a smartphone barcode at the tower and collect their goods without needing help from a sales associate.

Walmart also plans to incorporate other technology, including drones, to speed up its fulfillment process. In August, the retailer submitted a patent application for a blimp-like floating launch system in the sky, which would act as a hub for drones that delivered products to consumers’ homes.