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Walmart makes a rare CES appearance to promote AI-powered shopping

When Walmart announced it would be holding a CES keynote for the first time, we were admittedly a little skeptical. Now it all makes sense, though: America’s largest retailer came to CES 2024 in Las Vegas to talk about AI. In a joint announcement on Tuesday, the company said that it’s teaming up with Microsoft to build what it bills as AI-powered shopping experiences. In his keynote, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon described how the integration of AI across its website and apps will be used to study shopper behavior and suggest future purchases.

As you might expect, given Microsoft’s involvement, the artificial intelligence underpinning these experiences will be powered by large language models made available through this partnership with Microsoft. The AI it plans on deploying will use a combination of retail-specific search functions based on Walmart’s own proprietary technologies and Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service.

Walmart’s new generative AI-powered search functions will be available on iOS and Android mobile devices as well as through the company’s website. The new search features will give shoppers more options for interacting with the retailer’s digital inventory. For example, instead of searching for items like soda and chips, a shopper can look for product recommendations for specific events like a birthday celebration or game day watch party by telling the website, in natural language, what they need help shopping for.

During the keynote, McMilon said that the algorithms are designed to highlight relevant product categories after a search that will “serve up a curated list of the best items.” These new algorithmic shopping initiatives will directly compete with Google’s AI search tool SGE and Amazon’s large language model-powered product listing program.

While it seems that most of the efforts on the AI front are consumer-facing, the company said new AI search functions will not just help shoppers. It will also expand tools available to store associates intended to help streamline job-related tasks and workflows. This can also be seen in its announcement that at Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, employees will soon no longer need to check shopping receipts as people leave stores. Instead, it will deploy an AI tool that verifies customer purchases.

Walmart

Walmart

Additionally, Walmart teased ‘Walmart InHome Replenishment,’ which also will use artificial intelligence to predict what items in a shopper’s cart need to be replenished in a timely manner. This offering will be added as an extension to its ‘InHome’ program that became available to Walmart+ shoppers in 2019.

Aside from AI, the retailer also teased plans to weave augmented reality into its shopping experience. The company teased ‘Shop with Friends,’ a beta social commerce offering that uses augmented reality to allow shoppers the option to share virtual outfits with friends for feedback while shopping. Lastly, Walmart will expand its drone delivery testing program to more shoppers in Texas as a starting point. 1.8 million additional households will get access to drone delivery services that help shoppers get items as fast as 30 minutes.

We’re reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.

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