For decades movies have been showing us a look into the future. By the early 21st century we were going to have flying cars, self-drying clothes, and robots would be running the world. While that hasn’t quite happened, there are advances in technology that companies are starting to test in their retail stores. In 1992, Price Chopper installed the first self-checkout system which has become standard for the majority of US grocery store chains. In 2016, Lowes announced a multilingual autonomous robot (The Lowebot) designed to roam the aisles and help customers find their way. Gaining traction is “Scan and Go” technology utilizing mobile apps allowing shoppers to scan their groceries and bag before getting to the check-out lines; since 2018 Meijer has been updating their 241 locations to use this technology. Now, Walmart found in CSG’s Top 500 Retailers Database, has announced the first “smart store,” an AI-driven facility designed to improve inventory restocks and customer experience.

According to the CSG Supermarket, Grocery, & Convenience Store Chains PLUS database, Walmart is a multi-billion dollar company with 3,570 supercenter locations and 698 Neighborhood Markets. The Neighborhood Market, one of which is the testing grounds for Walmart’s new technology, took a hit last year and lost 1.39% in sales. In response to the loss, Walmart renovated one of their busiest stores in hopes that creating a technologically advanced location with more automation for inventory will free up employees to have a more personal interaction with shoppers.

The Neighborhood Market in Levittown, NY was redesigned and configured with what Walmart calls its Intelligent Retail Lab (IRL). The market holds 30,000 items in a 50,000 square foot location and will monitor every aisle with cameras, sensors, and processors in real time.  Computers will scan shelves for out of stock products, and weighted sensors will know the exact weight of the meat products that customers choose the most.

Although this “smart store” is the first of its kind, Walmart’s primary goal at present is to learn, and reorganize as they go along until the system is perfect. Computers will monitor inventory numbers, notify employees to gather shopping carts, and watch for expiration dates on perishable products leaving workers free to assist consumers, making the shopping experience more enjoyable for everyone. With technology continuing to advance, it won’t be long before every grocery store is following Walmart’s example and outfitting their stores with sensors, cameras and enough processing power to equate the download of 27,000 hours of music every second.