Walmart is testing inventory management robots that scan aisles to identify out-of-stock products and more, Reuters reports.

Each robot stands approximately 2 feet high and is equipped with a camera that scans store shelves for out-of-stock, misplaced, and mislabeled products. They then report the data to Walmart employees. Walmart has already been testing these robots at a few stores in Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania, and plans to roll them out to more than 50 US locations.

These robots can greatly improve Walmart’s inventory management and overall efficiency. The robots can scan aisles three times as fast and much more accurately than an average Walmart employee, Jeremy King, chief talent officer for Walmart US and e-commerce, told Reuters. Additionally, employees only have the chance to check aisles approximately twice a week; although it’s unknown how often or when these robots will be roaming the aisles, it’s likely to be on a more regular basis. All of these improvements will keep Walmart’s aisles better stocked and free up employees to help customers, creating a better shopping experience while making its operations more efficient.

This is a major step in Walmart’s efforts to shore up its inventory management processes. Walmart recently announced that it will begin stocking during daytime hours, rather than overnight, at more than 430 of its Walmart Neighborhood Market locations, and that it plans to utilize inventory management technology. While it’s unclear if the robots will be used at these locations, they’re clearly part of the same initiative to improve Walmart’s inventory management at all of its stores. These robots would work well in conjunction with daytime stocking, as they can provide Walmart employees with real-time inventory reports, allowing workers to quickly restock products or fix any issues.

Improvements to inventory management can bolster the in-store shopping experience, which should be a priority for Walmart. Although Walmart is working to improve its e-commerce performance in order to contend with Amazon, its unmatched brick-and-mortar network is already a significant advantage. The retailer has been trying to leverage this strength with initiatives that encourage customers to make returns or pick up orders in-store. Part of the value for Walmart is getting consumers into its stores, so it’s extremely important to offer a great shopping experience, and these inventory management changes can help ensure one.

One of retailers’ top priorities is to figure out how to gain an edge over Amazon. To do this, many retailers are attempting to differentiate themselves by creating highly curated experiences that combine the personal feel of in-store shopping with the convenience of online portals.

These personalized online experiences are powered by artificial intelligence (AI). This is the technology that enables e-commerce websites to recommend products uniquely suited to shoppers, and enables people to search for products using conversational language, or just images, as though they were interacting with a person.

Using AI to personalize the customer journey could be a huge value-add to retailers. Retailers that have implemented personalization strategies see sales gains of 6-10%, a rate two to three times faster than other retailers, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). It could also boost profitability rates 59% in the wholesale and retail industries by 2035, according to Accenture.

Stephanie Pandolph, research analyst for BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has written a detailed report on AI in e-commerce that:

  • Provides an overview of the numerous applications of AI in retail, using case studies of how retailers are currently gaining an advantage using this technology. These applications include personalizing online interfaces, tailoring product recommendations, increasing the relevance of shoppers search results, and providing immediate and useful customer service.
  • Examines the various challenges that retailers may face when looking to implementing AI, which typically stems from data storage systems being outdated and inflexible, as well as organizational barriers that prevent personalization strategies from being executed effectively.
  • Gives two different strategies that retailers can use to successfully implement AI, and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy.

Source: Business Insider