This year Walmart has been bullish about demonstrating that it’s ready for what’s next. And it’s ending the year on the same note.
The company is implementing two new concepts: a personal shopping service and automated stores.
Code Eight, a new Walmart subsidiary, began testing a personal shopping service, which is reportedly targeted at high earning households in urban areas, which will enable them to seamlessly receive product recommendations and order items via text.
Multiple sources said Code Eight’s personal shopping service is catered to busy city professionals (Think moms with young kids) who are always strapped for time. Even though this demographic isn’t in Walmart’s typical target audience, the retailer wants to make shoppers’ purchasing journeys more convenient—where household items are delivered for free within 24 hours, other products are delivered within two business days and returns are picked up without charge at apartment buildings.
[Read more on how technology is elevating consumers’ experiences: Retailers Ramp Up In-Store Technology to Deliver on Digital Experiences]
To use Code Eight’s service, consumers can text a photo of the items they would like to order to Walmart. In addition to sending a picture, consumers can also send a general request message about product inquiries and allow the service to pick specific items for their needs. When they sign up, consumers take a survey, which helps them personalize their digital shopping trip. Even though Code Eight plans on charging a membership fee to use the service, consumers that are testing it have free access at the moment.
Walmart is also jumping on the retail tech bandwagon—and plans on opening automated stores in the future. Walmart’s startup incubator Store No. 8 is working on Project Kepler—an initiative that incorporates AI, computer vision, data and machine learning to heighten consumers’ in-store shopping trips, according to Recode. Led by former Jet.com chief technology officer Mike Hanrahan, the effort aims to automate Walmart locations—so consumers can self-checkout their items without cashiers or checkout lines. Similar to Amazon’s Go concept, Walmart’s system may use cameras and sensors to track what consumers take off shelves, so they can charge them for products without having them physically stop to pay when they leave the store.
Both initiatives could take Walmart’s omnichannel services to the next level, however, it is unclear if the personal shopping service and automated stores will work at full capacity, since they are both in the early development and testing stages. The retailer has also expressed interest in other technology, including using robots to handle in-store inventory, mobile express returns and pickup towers where consumers can buy goods online and pick them up at their local Walmart store. Additionally, Walmart previously submitted a patent application for a blimp-like system to speed up its fulfillment process.