We are living in a world of cameras, sensors and machine learning technologies. Executives around the world are spending billions to digitize their operations to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and increase profitability.
This new era of AI is also coming to retailing and super markets. Cameras and sensors are keeping an eye on supermarket shelves, appearance, customers and almost every aspect of the food shopping experience.
The market is huge and Walmart has determined that there are about 140 million U.S. shoppers that visit a store in person or online every week. These customers represent an amazing treasure trove of data. Walmart alone generated more than $500 billion in overall sales globally last year.
Walmart looks at their stores as artificial intelligence factories where they are deploying cameras and embedded sensors on shelves to check what cameras cannot detect. Other applications can check produce and fruits and detect when for example bruised bananas need to be replaced with fresh ones. Or when more cashiers need to open before lines get too long.
Thousands of cameras suspended from the ceiling combined with sensors on shelves can monitor each store in real time. This form of digitalization allows workers to replenish shelves faster, and deal with other problems in the store immediately.
The digital monitoring improves the overall shopping experience for customers in a variety of ways like spotting spills, damaged products, and even when the supply of shopping carts is getting low. Obviously, this also allows Walmart to reduce costs and lower prices, which will lead to higher sales.
Walmart’s Sam’s Club is exploring a “Scan and Go” App, which allows shoppers to scan items as they shop and use their phones to pay for the goods thus avoiding the checkout line process.
Amazon is also opening cashier-less Amazon Go stores which also have deployed shelf sensors matched to shopper’s smart phones so that the goods are paid for when the customers leave the store without the need for cashiers.
The ultimate beneficiary of the application of AI to supermarkets is the customer who is experiencing lower prices and a more efficient and customer friendly experience. Obviously, and simultaneously, supermarkets are increasing sales, reducing costs and increasing profitability.
However, in the long run digitalization of companies operations will reduce employees and the economic consequences associated with it. Hopefully, the increased sales and profitability that corporations will gain from it will lead to the need to open more stores and move more products requiring employees laid off by digitalization being rehired as a result of it. Only time will tell.