5 takeaways from digital innovation from Walmart’s top tech leader

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From drone and autonomous vehicle deliveries to adding automated micro-fulfillment to dozens of stores, Walmart has a reputation for embracing digital innovations.

In the last few months alone, the company announced that it is testing a text-to-shop tool and further consolidating its app with universal search and payment, while Sam’s Club is develop a new version of its Scan & Go technology and pilot a new application feature called Scan & Ship which allows shoppers to select in-store items to ship.

Walmart leverages technology and scale as competitive advantages, especially since it competes with online retailer Amazon. In an interview with Keybanc at the financial company’s Technology Leadership Forum last week, Suresh Kumar, global chief technology officer and chief development officer for Walmart, explained how the retailer is approaching digital innovation while refining its omnichannel strategy.

Here are the top five takeaways from what Kumar shared.

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Courtesy of Walmart

Decide to build or partner

Walmart has several leading technology partnerships, including Adobe and Ford. He has also experienced several breakups with partners, nixing pickup rides manufactured by Cleveron, based in Estonia and distributed by Bell & Howell, and ending the use of Bossa Nova Robotics shelf sweeping robots for inventory management.

“Given our scale, we want to build and focus our technology on areas that are at the heart of our business, where ownership really gives us the ability to tailor the software to the needs of our business,” said Kumar, based on a Refinitiv transcription.

But when in-house software is too expensive to deploy in certain areas or markets, Kumar said Walmart will look to commercial software that can adapt to its needs.

“It’s not just about building our technology, and it’s not just about taking the technology, modularizing it, sustaining it and making it available to others, but it’s also about create the global ecosystem so that everything builds on itself and everyone ends up benefiting from it. from there, ”he said.

Walmart is also turning technology into a source of revenue, Kumar noted. Its partnership with Adobe, for example, allows Walmart to offer its cloud-based pickup, delivery and fulfillment services to retailers. This summer, Walmart also started selling its white label delivery platform to other companies.

Offer cashier-less technology

While some retailers, like Amazon, are branching out into cashier-less stores, Walmart relies on a range of payment options.

Cashierless technology has played a major role as Walmart seeks to reduce friction and make payment as easy as possible, Kumar said. Mobile scan and go, which is available at Sam’s Club and for Walmart + members, has so far solved a big problem among customers regarding long queues, he said.

Walmart has tested the cashless technology in stores, including replacement of cashiers with self-service checkouts in several stores in Canada, create an “experimental payment experience” in a Supercenter in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the opening of a cashier-less Neighborhood Market store in Florida.

But Kumar noted that not all customers want to use some or all of the technology options, so cashiers are needed.

“We will continue to have all of these things,” Kumar said of combining cashierless technology with cashiers.

Checkout area open at the Walmart Supercentre in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Courtesy of Walmart

Explore the disruptive technologies of the future

As Walmart uses technology to be a leader in retail disruption, Kumar highlighted several areas the company is exploring and which it sees as the most disruptive technology in the years to come.

Kumar said voice technology is a “very natural extension” of reducing customer friction. Already, the company has made voice technology available to its employees: The [email protected] The app offers a voice-activated personal assistant, called Ask Sam, which was previously available as a stand-alone app for some associates.

“I think over time the most natural way you’re going to interact with an existing system, including shopping, will be through voice,” Kumar said.

Kumar said he’s also excited about doubling down on the blockchain, which Walmart primarily uses for food transparency, especially with leafy greens. “If there are any recalls from the industry, you can very, very quickly identify whether Walmart received the product from the affected source,” he said.

Walmart sees blockchain in several areas “as a mechanism to automate transactions between suppliers, carriers, logistics,” he said, noting that the traceability and transparency with blockchain could potentially be linked to regeneration and sustainability efforts.

Virtual fittings, which Walmart already offers for clothing, could also apply to home and outdoor items through the use of augmented and virtual reality, Kumar said.

“You can take the furniture and you can put it in your living room. Let’s say you try to buy a tent… You don’t actually want to buy it and try to set it up and then find out that it doesn’t work for you, ”he said.

As technologies continue to evolve, their promise ultimately comes down to making shopping easier.

“I’m looking at it primarily from whether it reduces customer friction? Does it make it easier for them to shop? And at the back, does it allow us to generate information more efficiently and faster and to be able to reason our data more effectively? ” he said.

Voice function activated [email protected] application.

Courtesy of Walmart

Leverage machine learning and AI

Walmart has turned to machine learning and artificial intelligence to save money, create personalized experiences at scale and make workers more efficient, Kumar said.

For example, Walmart offers a predictive shopping cart that uses machine learning and AI to understand shoppers’ history, their preferences, and what they typically buy to create a complementary experience.

The company is also strengthening its ability to plan its omnichannel assortment to determine which stores need which products among the millions it offers, and how to integrate them gradually. information together and to be able to synthesize it and to be able to have an overview, ”leading to more dynamic management, said Kumar.

Walmart has also used technology to make it easier for store associates to do their jobs. His [email protected] application, which debuted in June and was built in-house, uses machine learning, augmented reality, camera vision and AI, allowing U.S. associates to point to their mobile device, see their upcoming shifts, and request changes schedule, among other features. Kumar said Walmart is currently working on a tool for corporate workers that is “very similar” to [email protected]

Machine learning and AI are also helping Walmart save money: Using machine learning for markdowns saves the company more than $ 30 million, Kumar said. Earlier this year, Walmart said it saw Buyer acceptance has nearly doubled for substitutions – a tricky part for online orders that can lead to lost sales and discontent – since he started using deep learning AI, which mimics the way brains process data and can learn without human supervision, for online grocery orders.

Put more emphasis on security

Walmart customers have remained focused on value and convenience during the pandemic, but have become increasingly concerned about safety, Kumar said.

Kumar highlighted several ways Walmart has used technology to address security concerns. For example, the retailer curbside pickup added for pharmacy items last December and rolled out scan and let’s go – a feature available to Walmart + members – at all locations.

Customer using their phone at the self-service checkout in a Walmart store.

Courtesy of Walmart

Last spring, Walmart made changes to its pick-up and delivery services and to Pay Walmart, which allows people to link a payment method in the app, then scan a QR code in a cash register, to make purchases more tactile.

Going forward, Walmart will continue to rely not only on feedback from its customers who shop online or in-store, but also on observations of what other companies are doing, trends and what is being talked about on the networks. social media to help determine its next digital innovations, Kumar mentioned.


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