Walmart is testing the viability of making its stores cashierless in a Fayetteville, Arkansas location by removing its checkout clerks and standard conveyor belts. The corporation wants to determine if eliminating human interaction from the point-of-sale process will accelerate transaction times. FOX 5 NY also states the company’s experiment is an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Walmart noted it could expand its no-contact buying program to additional stores if its initial test goes well.
Walmart Without Cashiers
Like many brick-and-mortar operators, Walmart first utilized self-checkout technology in the late ‘90s by installing self-service machines in its stores. However, the technology’s less than seamless functionality left customers frustrated and did not provide the desired speed of service improvements. In the 2010s, the company deployed a mobile point-of-sale solution in 150 locations but withdrew it after encountering customer backlash.
However, the grocery chain is once again experimenting with cashierless checkout after changing its operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Walmart now mandates shoppers and staff wear masks, initiated an on-site social distancing policy, and installed point-of-sales barriers. Though the brand’s health and safety measures are necessary, they also likely slow down transaction times. Theoretically, the big-box chain could expedite sales with a streamlined self-checkout process, but only if shoppers take to it.
Notably, the Fayetteville store is keeping staffers on hand to help customers if needed.
Walmart’s Future Plans
Walmart’s cashiersless store test is the latest development in its push to automate its expansive and expensive retail operations.
Last April, the hypermarket opened a 50,000 square foot store concept called Intelligent Retail Lab in Levittown, New York. The outlet eschewed cashiers in favor of an Nvidia-developed artificial intelligence-controlled Internet of Things platform that processes transactions with a network of ceiling-mounted cameras and sensors. That same month, the corporation deployed thousands of cleaning, freight-unloading, and restocking bots to 25 percent of its U.S. stores.
Walmart has also dedicated significant resources to improving its grocery delivery capability.
Earlier this year, the firm revealed it partnered with Alert Innovations to build a mini-autonomous warehouse to optimize its online order fulfillment. Dubbed Alphabot, the 20,000 square foot Salem, New Hampshire center uses self-directed robots to assemble remote purchases. The company said the project dramatically reduced processing times, and it would be expanded into California and Oklahoma.
America’s largest private employer also inked partnership agreements with two autonomous vehicle startups to improve its online delivery service. Last July, the corporation enlisted Gatik to handle its middle-mile grocery transport as part of an Arkansas-based pilot program. Five months later, it teamed with Nuro to transport goods directly to customers in the Houston, Texas area.
Walmart also spearheaded an initiative termed InHome Delivery in select markets that give shoppers the option to have their groceries dropped off in their refrigerators.
As the coronavirus outbreak grew into a pandemic, consumers adapted by purchasing their foods and household goods from online providers like Instacart and Amazon. But now that local officials are lifting shelter-in-place mandates, the public may return to their old in-store buying habits. Regardless, Walmart’s multifaceted approach to retail indicates it will occupy a significant place in the industry far into the future.