As Amazon continues to carve a place for itself in the physical retail market, traditional brick-and-mortar store chains like Walmart have seen their dominant positions threatened - if only slightly.
Amazon's approach to physical retail focuses on convenience and automation; appealing ideas for the average shopper. Walmart can see which way the wind is blowing, and it has begun to follow Amazon's lead in some ways. The company has plans to roll out floor-cleaning, stock-replenishing robots to its stores, for example, and it has tested automated grocery delivery fulfillment systems in the past.
Now, Walmart is taking on Amazon in a much more direct way: by launching its own spin on the latter's cashier-free "Go" stores. The grocery chain today launched the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), an AI-powered Neighborhood Walmart location in Levittown, New York that uses cameras, sensors, and machine learning to help the store operate more smoothly.
Instead of replacing employees entirely, as Amazon does, Walmart's tech is being used to improve employee efficiency. For example, cameras are used not to automatically handle purchases, but to let employees know when meat is beginning to go bad or when certain products are expected to be in-demand before major shopping rushes hit. The IRL's AI can even detect stray carts throughout the store.
The goal of all this tech is to reduce the need for Walmart's "Associates" to continuously patrol the store. In theory, this should free them up to spend their time assisting customers, which is where Walmart would like to see its stores' focus shift in the long run.