NEW YORK CITY — A year ago, in January 2018, Walmart expanded its Scan & Go program to 125 stores, calling it a new way to shop with just your phone or a handheld device, and no interacting with cashiers.
By April, that program had all but wrapped up. At the time, a Walmart spokesperson told Business Insider that its ending was due to “low participation” from customers, who found the program difficult to use.
Walmart executive vice president and CTO Jeremy King, speaking at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show conference on Sunday, revealed a few more reasons the company decided to pull the plug on the program.
“We found too many errors in the process … making sure people were scanning things right, multiple quantities, that sort of thing,” King said on stage in conversation with the Wall Street Journal’s Sara Castellanos.
Scan & Go is not completely gone from Walmart. It is still in effect at Walmart’s nearly 600 Sam’s Club stores, where it was implemented more than two years ago. But at Walmart’s more than 5,000 locations in the US, the errors were not tenable, King said.
“At Walmart’s scale, you test in 10 stores and see how it goes,” King said. “If it’s going to be really hard to implement across the board then we usually wait until the technology’s better.”
King is predicting that that better — or different — technology is coming soon, however. On stage, King listed computer vision — technology that can use cameras and sensors to “see” and understand like a human — as one example of tech he is excited about for 2019.
Computer vision is a natural fit for retail, where it would be able to replace a program like Scan & Go with a more intuitive method that could include technology that automatically tracks customers and what they’re buying, charging them appropriately.
“Computer vision can be a hard thing right now, especially for small items,” he said. “It’s getting better and better, but I see that improving the next couple of years.”
King stopped short of declaring a computer-vision pilot for Walmart, but added that he is “really excited” about its potential.
A similar method has already been implemented by Amazon, which is aggressively expanding its own cashierless prepared-food-and-convenience-store concept called Amazon Go. The chain could have up to 3,000 stores in just a few years, according to a recent report.
The stars seem to be aligning for computer vision at Walmart, too. The company’s tech division is currently hiring for a “Principal Data Scientist / COMPUTER VISION Engineer,” according to a job listing that went up in October.
“Walmart Technology is looking for exceptional research engineers to join our team focused on delivering computer vision-enabled capabilities that can increase revenue, reduce costs and drive a differentiated brand experience that serve 200 [million plus] customers a week,” the listing reads.
The job will be based in Walmart’s new Dallas-based innovation center focused on computer vision and machine learning, which Walmart’s VP of tech modernization, Chris Enslin, announced at VentureBeat’s Blueprint conference in March.
In October, Walmart opened a Sam’s Club “store of the future” called Sam’s Club Now and featuring no cashiers, forcing customers to use the Sam’s Club Now app and the Scan & Go functionality.
The store is intended to be used as a playground to test new tech like “computer vision, AR, machine learning, artificial intelligence, [and] robotics,” Jamie Iannone, Samclub.com’s CEO and executive VP of membership and technology, said in a statement at the time.
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