How Walmart uses technology to stay ahead of the curve

NRF Retail Converge: Global CTO Suresh Kumar discusses the tech that saw the retailer through the pandemic

As the world inches back to normal, companies are reviewing the past year and finding key takeaways to bring into the future. For Suresh Kumar, global chief technology officer and chief development officer of Walmart Inc., those key takeaways revolve around the tech that got his company through the pandemic.

In a session at NRF Retail Converge, Kumar spoke with Brendan Witcher, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, about the retail giant’s technical strategy. Kumar described data and insights as a “lifeline” during the pandemic to keep front-line associates and customers safe. While Walmart was already investing in omnichannel, it doubled down in the past year and a half and has begun applying advanced technologies in a holistic manner.

Machine learning, augmented reality and artificial intelligence all coalesce in Walmart’s new app for associates, Me@Walmart. It provides associates everything they need to do their job, including accessing work schedules, completing health screenings and utilizing Ask Sam, a feature employees can use to ask questions and immediately get a response.

Outside the app, Walmart uses ML and AI to supply fulfillment carts in thousands of stores, as well as find efficient ways for customers to receive orders in a timely manner. Another use has been in a robotic associate that roams aisles and scans stock, freeing employees to complete other tasks.

Witcher called this utilization of technology “removing the mundane”: improving the jobs and lives of associates, while also making shopping an easier and more enjoyable experience for consumers.

To round out the session, Witcher asked Kumar to give advice to other retailers moving forward. “Do not expect consumers to shop the same as they did pre-pandemic,” Kumar said. “This experience has introduced non-linear changes … and retailers need to pay attention to changing customer needs and expectations.”

Consumers still care about value and quality, but convenience, choice, safety and trust have all risen in importance. Kumar also pointed out that technology is evolving quickly, and adoption is happening just as fast. To stay ahead, retailers must focus on both the latest technology trends and customers’ changing needs.

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