Tools for Better Service From the Intelligent Retail Lab

Neighborhood Market 4184 is more than a store. It’s the Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL), a hub of #RetailForward thinking, where Walmart tests out artificial intelligence solutions to retail opportunities. The goal: serving customers by creating the retail space of the future. Step inside, starting with the video below.

With 17 years of Walmart experience plus a degree in computer networking and information technology, Bob H., director of operations at Store 4184, Levittown, N.Y., is the perfect person for the job of IRL store director. “I’ve been there as an hourly associate,” says Bob, who started in electronics and worked his way up to market asset protection manager before taking his current role. “Now I’m on the other side of it trying to help make associates’ lives easier. My responsibility is to make sure the project that we’re rolling out gets translated well for the associates and to make sure we stay focused on helping our customers have the best shopping experience around.”

The Store:

50,000
square feet

30,000
items

100+
servers

150,000
feet of cabling (enough to scale Mount Everest five times)

Thousands of Cameras

They call it “computer vision.” At each 4-foot modular section, two cameras focus in so the team can tell what’s in or out of stock at all times. The machine learns, too: “We’ll train it on what apple juice looks like,” says Bob. “After learning that, it should know where apple juice goes and how many should be on the side counter.”

Rethinking Stock:

SKU Reduction = Sales Increase

More isn’t always better: In produce, four of the so-called "Titanic" produce displays were replaced with smaller tables that hold only four types of items, reducing SKUs by 23%. “So rather than having 12 different types of potatoes,” says Bob, “now we have four.” But associates found that decreasing the selection made shopping easier, and sales in produce are up double digits. 

"Going back to the early days of Sam Walton, Walmart has been innovating in all sorts of ways, from satellites to UPC codes to how they think about operations in the store. This is an extension of that. Walmart has an innovation DNA that probably surpasses any other company in the world."

Mike H., CEO, IRL Store

The Banana Opportunity

Bananas are Walmart’s best seller: The demand is so high that it’s difficult for stores to keep up. Knowing that produce is critical for many customers, the IRL team wanted to find a way to help keep their top seller in stock. Their solution: camera technology that has the ability to measure in-stock levels. It’s currently in testing, but this technology can potentially alert associates’ TC70s when bananas need to be restocked.

The team has also begun working on ways the cameras can identify which produce items are going bad or are ready to be pulled and donated.

The Meat Wall

Cameras monitor the meat wall, taking photos every few minutes to identify when an item is out of stock. But during this technology’s test period, the cameras kept missing items stuck at the back of the display. So the team installed roller mats that slide items forward when a customer removes the front item. “That saves my department manager countless hours each week,” says Bob.

The Results:

102.8%
Clean, Fast, and Friendly score (highest in store history)

20%
increase in year-over-year sales

11%
increase in customer traffic

Failing Forward:

Electronic Shelf Labels

The IRL store partners with Operations to test ideas and then uses what they learn to improve future implementations. But not every experiment succeeds. Like when the team made electronic labels that could be updated remotely. The labels were crushed by carts or got pushed down the shelf under different items. Associates communicated these failings back to the technology team. “That’s the great part of having a working store as our lab,” says Bob. “We’re going to have these variables that we wouldn’t have in an engineering office.”

Want to Learn More About the IRL Store?

Visit intelligentretaillab.com or corporate.walmart.com/IRL for more about how this store is innovating new ways to serve. 

For more stories, advice, and inspiration, download your copy of the Winter issue of Walmart World here!

 
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