Walmart Canada is turning to artificial intelligence help keep its grocery shelves smartly stocked — and its customers happy, whether they’re shopping in the store or online for delivery or pickup.
It should cheer up company employees, too.
Mississauga, Ontario-based Walmart Canada said Wednesday that, following a 70-store pilot, it’s now deploying Focal Systems’ computer-vision AI solution for on-shelf availability chainwide. The retailer began testing the Focal Systems platform in 2020 and expanded it to additional stores across the country in 2021 as part of a $3.5 billion investment in technology for store transformation, focusing on omnichannel.
Integrated with Walmart Canada’s current inventory systems, Focal Systems’ technology uses cameras to automatically detect out-of-stock or low-stock situations and directs store staff to replenish merchandise in key departments such as grocery, pets, health and beauty, frozen and dairy.
Walmart Canada noted that it’s one of the first Canadian retailers to implement an AI-solution for on-shelf inventory status and called the Focal Systems technology a “game-changer” for customers and associates alike.
“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,” explained Robin DeMers, director of store optimization at 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.”
The Focal Systems platform works as follows: Computer vision cameras — installed and pointed directly at shelves in popular areas throughout the store — scan the shelves at predetermined intervals. When a camera sees an out-of-stock item, it triggers replenishment via Walmart’s inventory systems. An associate then receives the alert and restocks the shelf as soon as possible.
Walmart associates report that the Focal Systems technology is effective. According to Megan Osborne, store manager at the Walmart Heartland Supercentre in Mississauga, one of the pilot sites, the solution makes employees’ work simpler and results in a better experience for customers — and that it’s been a “game-changer” in her store.
“Walmart is driving this industry forward in AI-adoption and retail automation, challenging the status quo on availability, customer experience and employee satisfaction,” Francois Chaubard, CEO of Burlingame, Calif.-based Focal Systems, said 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.”
Walmart Canada added that the solution follows two other recent in-store innovations. In June, Walmart Canada unveiled state-of-the-art technology in the Scarborough West Supercenter that enables the store to handle more than 1,200 daily online orders. And in April, more than 1,500 Ring Scanners rolled out to stores nationwide to help associates pick online grocery orders faster and more easily.