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Is Walmart Raising The Stakes For Cashier-Free Shopping?

Is Walmart Raising The Stakes For Cashier-Free Shopping?

Walmart is taking its war with Amazon to the store experience by testing cashier-free technology designed to rival Amazon Go, according to a report from Recode.

Store No. 8, Walmart’s startup incubator, is developing a technology-heavy store experience dubbed “Project Kepler,” that uses computer vision and cashier-free checkout similar to the “Just Walk Out” technology. Mike Hanrahan, Co-Founder and former CTO of Jet.com, is leading the test project out of Hoboken, N.J.

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Walmart hasn’t revealed any specifics of the technology, but the retailer may deploy it in new types of store formats rather than existing stores.

The Amazon Go concept uses a combination of sensors and cameras to track what each store shopper takes off of shelves, so they can be automatically billed for their purchase (via the Amazon app) without having to stop to pay on the way out. The pilot store, open only to Amazon employees, has been operating near the retailer’s Seattle headquarters since December 2016. Its public launch has been severely delayed, however, with reports that the technology was not efficient when the store was crowded.

These cashier-free endeavors may not be limited to the “Big Two” of Amazon and Walmart if other tests prove successful.  Platform provider Standard Cognition is focused on building an AI-based, checkout-free store experience for retailers of all sizes. Alibaba and Midea Group, an electrical appliance manufacturer, have partnered to launch Xiaomaigui, a high-tech retail concept of unmanned self-service convenience kiosksthat are designed to allow shoppers to access and pay for products using smartphones. 

Customers will scan a QR code with their Alipay app to unlock the machine to select goods. The machine will then register what has been picked up when customers close the door, automatically charging them via Alipay. The self-service kiosks are built with RFID technology tracking every item on the shelf to optimize inventory levels.

Walmart Incubator Tests Personal Shopping Service

Meanwhile, Store No. 8’s subsidiary, Code Eight, recently started testing a personal shopping service for “busy NYC moms.” This service would enable shoppers to buy and research products via text messaging. The shopping service is currently focused on items in health & beauty, household essentials and apparel/accessories categories.

The target customers for Code Eight are wealthy city dwellers, and the service is designed to offer free delivery of household products within 24 hours. Other purchases are delivered within two business days, and returns can be picked up for free from customers’ homes, according to the Recode report.

There is no guarantee that either of Walmart's new test projects will expand into consumer-facing products in their current form, but the technology could still be adapted for other Walmart services and locations.

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