Buying things in bulk from wholesalers can take all day. Sam’s Club, the Walmart-owned retail chain, is trying to reduce that time: using artificial intelligence to scan shoppers’ shopping carts so they no longer have to show a receipt at checkout.
“Eliminating even the few seconds it takes to scan a receipt at the checkout door is worth it,” announced Megan Crozier, executive vice president of Walmart, on stage this week at company presentation for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
It has long been common at stores where bulk items are sold — like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club — for store employees to check customers’ receipts as they exit. But it also led to accusations of racial prejudicewith some customers reporting that they have been subject to more in-depth checks than other buyers.
At some retailers, like Sam’s Club and Costco, presenting a receipt has long been required for anyone leaving the store.
But in other channels, where this practice is less systematically applied, accusations of racial prejudice have been made. In 2018, home improvement chain Lowe’s announced it was suspending its receipt-checking practice after a Black customer said he was asked to present a receipt in two separate locations and that a cashier at the One of the locations told him that the employees didn’t do it. receipts are generally not checked because the neighborhood was predominantly white.
Costco, on its website, says the practice exists “to verify that purchased items have been properly processed by our cashiers. » The explanation continues: “This is our most effective method of maintaining inventory control accuracy. »
This can be a frustrating experience for shoppers, who often have to wait in two lines after shopping: at the checkout and then out. One response to this was the addition of self-checkout lines.
According to a video presented by Walmart executives, Sam’s Club will now allow customers to go through a gate-like portal rather than having an employee stand at the door and check individual receipts – an innovation Ms. Crozier described as reinventing the future of retail. The portal is equipped with what Walmart described in a press release as “computer vision and digital technology” to verify purchases.
The technology is currently in 10 locations, but Crozier told the audience the company hopes to bring the change to all of its approximately 600 locations by the end of the year.
“The exciting thing is that we might finally see artificial intelligence at work in our everyday lives,” said James R. Bailey, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business, adding: “And people say, ‘Well, your phone does that.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s just the computing speed.’ You know, it’s just this, that and the other. I don’t see it. I don’t see the progress. What Sam’s Club is doing is actually something tangible and visible.
The use of artificial intelligence has become increasingly prevalent in the retail sector, especially since the height of the pandemic, which changed the way customers interact with physical stores. Walmart is already using artificial intelligence to inventory management and as a way to anticipate customer demand. (In an example discussed at the Consumer Electronics ShowWalmart CEO Doug McMillon provided an overview of Walmart’s advanced home delivery service, which will use artificial intelligence to predict when deliveries are needed based on shopping habits.)
In recent years, Amazon has rolled out its “Just Walk Out” technology, which uses AI to allow customers to leave a store with their purchases and avoid checkout lines altogether because their accounts are automatically charged, although this year, Amazon closed eight of its Amazon Go storesindicating that the retailer is still trying to find its footing in the physical store space.
Walmart indirectly referenced the technology by unveiling its own attempts to reduce friction between shopping and checking out.
“It’s one thing to allow this type of simple exit technology in a small-footprint store for a handful of items,” Ms. Crozier said. “You all saw it. You can get an apple. A stick of cheese. Maybe something as big as a box of cereal. But we’re doing it at scale.