Walmart leans on machine learning across all channels
Walmart is increasingly using machine learning technology to enhance customer shopping experiences both in-store and online, Laurent Desegur, vice president of customer experience engineering at WalmartLabs, said at the MobileBeat 2017 event this week in San Francisco, VentureBeat reports.
Desegur said Walmart is aiming to use the technology as a bridge to help it create seamless experiences between customer shopping activities in-store and online that make it as convenient as possible for them to find products.
Machine learning can turn collected customer data into a variety of actionable insights that can be used to improve personalization by providing relevant product recommendations, Desegur said. The result is that customers can move through the checkout process more quickly, regardless of whether they are shopping in-store or online, or using both channels at the same time.
Retailers across the board are realizing that in order to to challenge Amazon they need to get better at the things Amazon does well. Perhaps to some that means refining logistics and providing a wider variety of express delivery options and programs. Amazon's other major point of leverage has been in its ability to use data-driven insights to help customers find products they want — or maybe even products they didn't know they wanted.
The machine learning exploits of Walmart, or really any retailer, are a reaction to Amazon's long-standing edge in this regard. These companies are looking to create what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has described as Amazon's "horizontal enabling layer."
Walmart’s machine learning innovations have only just begun, and the retailer, which claims 11,700 physical stores in 28 countries drawing 140 million shoppers on a weekly basis, according to VentureBeat's coverage, has been careful to describe how it "will compete with technology, but will win with people."
We know what Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was trying to say when he uttered that phrase — that both are important — but it still paints a picture of technology and people as concepts that somehow exist apart from one another. The real truth is that use of AI, machine learning and the like, especially when applied across channels, can help Walmart's people be more efficient at their jobs. The tech can help promote inventory awareness and an understanding of how product recommendations influence customer store visits.
What McMillon perhaps should have said was that Walmart will compete with technology and people, and win with technology and people. We'll let him off the hook, since he's had a busy year since last summer's acquisition of Jet.com. The array of e-commerce acquisitions that Walmart has made in a very short time provide it with plenty of new opportunities to put technologies such as machine learning to greater use.