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Walmart Canada Introduces AI Tech to Avoid Out-of-Stock in Stores [Interview]

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Walmart Canada is rolling out an innovative computer vision AI solution for out-of-stock detection to all its stores across the country.

The retailer said it is one of the first ones in Canada to deploy an AI solution for on-shelf availability.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Computer vision cameras are installed in popular areas throughout the store, pointed directly at shelves. At pre-determined intervals, the cameras scan the shelves; 
  2. When a product goes out-of-stock, it will trigger replenishment through Walmart’s existing inventory systems;  
  3. An associate will receive the alert and re-stock the shelf as soon as possible to ensure the best product availability for customers – whether they’re shopping in-store or online for grocery pickup and delivery.  

“We know it can be disappointing for customers when we don’t have products they want available on our shelves. That’s why we initiated this pilot using technology from Focal Systems that takes the guesswork out of knowing when a product is out of stock,” said Robin DeMers, Director, Store Optimization, for Walmart Canada. 

Image: Walmart Canada

“This leading-edge technology provides real-time, automated alerts for replenishment in key priority areas within our stores. It also empowers our associates with cool tech that makes a big difference in the way they are able to work and provide the best possible customer experience.”

DeMers said the AI solution includes shelf-level cameras that are pointed directly at the shelves and actually scan the shelves at pre-determined intervals. When the product goes out of stock or is low in stock, it will trigger replenishment through the retailer’s existing inventory systems. An alert is sent to an associate where they will restock the shelf. 

“It’s currently being deployed to all stores. So we expect it to be in all stores by early 2023,” said DeMers, adding a small camera is used in 11 core departments of a store. 

Image: Walmart Canada

The decision to roll out the system to all the retailer’s stores came following a 70-store pilot. Megan Osborne, Store Manager at the Walmart Heartland Supercentre in Mississauga, one of the pilot locations, said her associates are excited to work with technology that helps make their work simpler and better for their customers and that it’s been a “game-changer” in her store.

The pilot program was launched in early 2020.

“What’s really exciting about this technology. The traditional way that we managed it was either when it was out of stock or low stock it was completely manual and it was all visual,” said DeMers. “But now that we’ve introduced this automated solution powered by AI it makes it easier and faster for our associates to address on-stock availability issues because the technology itself is actually taking the guesswork out of it. It’s telling us that that’s out. We don’t have to visually see it. We just have to react to it and get it back on the shelf. 

Image: Walmart Canada
Image: Walmart Canada

“We know that it can be disappointing for customers when we don’t have the products that they want on our shelves. We want our customers to be able to get what they want when they need it whether they’re shopping in-store or online. And really that’s why we initiated the pilot with Focal. It takes the guesswork out of knowing when a product’s out of stock. Let’s the leverage technology and let’s put all of our efforts into getting it back on the shelves. So from a customer’s perspective it’s about being able to get what you want when you need it.”

The AI solution is from Focal Systems.

“With this bold step, Walmart is driving this industry forward in AI-adoption and retail automation, challenging the status-quo on availability, customer experience, and employee satisfaction,” said Francois Chaubard, CEO, Focal Systems, in a statement. “Walmart is raising the bar, and we are inspired to help in any way we can. Focal is thrilled to be a key part of Walmart’s store digitization efforts nationwide.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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