A Review of Technology in Walmart
Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retail store. Information systems played a huge role getting Wal-Mart to the number one spot, and with Amazon and Alibaba hot on their tails, now more than ever do they need to set up themselves as a technology company as well. Wal-Mart is working on doing just that. They are developing robots that will process produce more effectively. They have released a mobile app that has an abundance of functionalities that make your shopping experience that much better. They are even delving into the artificial intelligence realm to automate their retail stores. When you hear Wal-Mart you might think of a store, but you’ll soon think or information technology.
One of Walmart’s developments is that they are working on a new grocery distribution center that “will process 40% more products than a traditional DC” (Redman, 2018) that will be implemented in 2020. This distribution center will be using robots to sort and palletize products more efficiently to cut down on transportation costs. This high-tech distribution center will be able to discern between crushable and non-crushable items so that they’re not left with the proverbial eggs in the bottom of the bag scenario. Decreasing the time it takes to process the items, the amount of produce wasted from improper packing, coupled with the maximizing of space used in shipping, all this translates to our number one retailer making more money, and you better believe that the cost savings will make its way down to the customer at the registers, as well as be more confident that they will have what you want when you show up (Redman, High-tech distribution center coming from Wal-Mart, 2018). Saving money is great and all, but what about the jobs that are going to be replaced by these robots. A typical perishable distribution center of Wal-Mart will employ around 750 associates (MWPVL, n.d.), while this new distribution center will employ around 300 associates (Cox, 2018). With this new facility employing less than half the amount off people of the more traditional facilities you are working we fall into the robots taking all the job situations, but on the right side, the 300 jobs won’t be physical labor jobs moving and packing produce, but will be jobs overseeing the information system while it does all the heavy lifting. Wal-Mart making packing and shipping your produce more efficiently is a great way to get some saving to the customer, but that isn’t the only way they get you to shop with them.
Wal-Mart has developed a phone app, that helps you shop while you’re in the store but lets you shop from you home, and their adding functionality to it every day. The first feature is an obvious one, being able to shop directly on the app. You don’t even have to leave your couch to show with Wal-Mart. With the obvious use for an app figured out, Wal-Mart knows that around 80% of shoppers will make a list before they go to the store (Heller, 2018). Well Wal-Mart has included a list new feature in their app. You can simply enter items, which the app will then allow you to pick from a few different brands to add to your list. Once you have the items in your list, you can you use another functionality of the app. The app now shows you a map of your Wal-Mart, which not only tells you where each section is, but will tell you where your items are actually on the shelves. Not only will it tell you where items are it can tell you what movies are available in their local Red Box (Heller, 2018). Another piece of functionality that has been added to the app is you “will be able to initiate a return within the app, selecting an item from this digital history and creating a bar code on the mobile device” (Heller, 2018). After the return has been started you will just have to go to the store, present your code and drop off the item. Just like any other app on your phone adding new functionality doesn’t always go as planned. As for the Wal-Mart app, the addition of scan & go, the feature that allowed you to scan your items while you shop in the store and pay for them with your phone. This feature was recently removed because, according to (Redman, Wal-Mart pulls plug on Mobile Express Scan & Go, 2018) “the basket size of a typical Wal-Mart shopping trip made Scan & Go difficult to use for many customers, who found it awkward to scan a large number of items, especially fresh products like fruit and vegetables.” Not everything a company does will be a home run, but you can always learn from those hiccups.
Wal-Mart is starting to develop an artificial intelligence that will run a majority of the retail store’s operations. Wal-Mart is developing and will launch an Intelligent Retail Lab in one of its stores in New York (Spencer, 2018). This new AI will be able to better identify when items are running low. Not only will it be able to identify if items are low, if you decide you do not want that box of cookies any more while you are in the baked goods aisle and just place it on the shelf, the AI will be able to identify that box of cookies is not in the correct location. Wal-Mart is also working on having the AI identify when shopping carts are running low at the front of the store. Wal-Mart isn’t only developing this AI do understand stocking of items and number or carts they want it to have the ability to identify spills in the store. Once a spill is identified then comes the self-cleaning robot they are working on (Spencer, 2018). To accompany this AI Wal-Mart is testing electronic shelf labels that will be able to instantly update prices. With this AI doing all the work, we find ourselves in that all too familiar place or robots taking the jobs. If this robot is going to track inventory and shopping carts and clean up messes, where are all the jobs? As with the distribution center the jobs available will be less be physical labor type jobs.
Wal-Mart being the retail giant it is, it’s by no surprise that technology plays a huge part it. From creating a whole new distribution center that is focused on maximizing the amount of undamaged grocery items to the stores, to a mobile app that breaks the mold and allows you to pinpoint on a map the item you are looking for. Wal-Mart is integrating information technology into its very core, innovating an AI to streamline the day-to-day tasks that take place inside your local Wal-Mart. Without a doubt Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, and now a growing tech giant!