US retail giant Walmart’s vision of the future has been revealed by a number of recent patents. These suggest that its ambition is now to embrace emerging technologies and change the way that customers shop.
Revamping the retail experience
Walmart’s latest patents indicate, among other things, that the company is looking to catch up with bitter rival, Amazon, which is moving into every aspect of the retail and customer loyalty game, including deliveries.
Earlier this year, Amazon opened up a cashier-less store in Seattle, in which a sophisticated arrangement of cameras and sensors determines the contents of customers’ baskets. Rather than head to the checkout, shoppers simply walk out of the store and purchases are charged to their Amazon accounts automatically.
Walmart has filed a patent to deploy what appears to be a rival item identification system in its stores, as part of a smart shopping cart programme. Other retailers have been exploring smartphone checkout systems, enabling shoppers to scan and pay for goods in store.
Another patent is for a customer wearable that will log shoppers into Walmart’s systems when they enter a store, track them as they move around the aisles, and then log them out when they leave.
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Paradoxically, the idea is that cashier-less stores could offer a more personal service as staff are free to help with individual enquiries.
Drones in the aisles
However, one of Walmart’s more unusual patents could take human workers out of the equation completely. The company has outlined plans for drone assistants, in order to “provide price verification of a user-specified object or […] provide navigation assistance […] to guide the user to the user-specified object.”
Unlikely though it may seem, checking the price of an item or being guided to the aisle by drone appears to be part of Walmart’s plans – or at least, the future concepts that it is exploring.
And that’s not all. Walmart has also filed a patent for what may be an anti-theft device – an “autonomous vehicle content identification” system – designed to gauge the weight of a car as it enters a parking area, and again on leaving.
Just last week it emerged that Walmart has also filed a range of patents related to autonomous systems in agriculture. That move implies an aim to vertically integrate its food supply chain and take more control over the crops it sends to market.
Internet of Business says
As we reported recently, while the triple-A group of Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet – followed by other tech behemoths, such as Microsoft – dominate the list of the world’s most valuable companies, Walmart easily heads another list.
Walmart is by far the world’s largest company by revenue, in a top 10 that is largely made up of oil/energy companies and banks, and is increasingly full of Chinese corporations. Only Apple scrapes into that chart, at number nine.
As such, we can see the two charts as representing different views of the world: mindshare, investment, and hope (market capitalisation) and ability to make people spend money (hard revenue). At present, Walmart towers over the second category, while Apple, Walmart’s rival Amazon, and Google parent Alphabet, vie for leadership in the investment markets.
However, this is only while Walmart is seen as a traditional retailer, rather than as a high-tech innovator. Its new patents, which aim to reduce overheads and pioneer new technologies, could suggest that Walmart is no longer the slumbering giant.
In short, don’t bet against Walmart the technology player. If nothing else, it knows better than any company in the world how to make people part with their cash – far more so than Amazon.