Imagine never running out of milk again. You pour the last bit into your cereal — which is, incidentally, also empty now — and then head to work. By the time you get home the empties have been replaced as if by magic.
Walmart thinks it can make this happen, with the help of AI. The company announced a new feature of its InHome replenishment service that aims to automatically order the right stuff at the right time, and hand it off to a delivery person who can drop things off in a fridge in your house. Shoppers with the $20 monthly InHome membership already get the seamless drop-off, but they still have to select items themselves. By training its models on both your habits and Walmart’s overall knowledge of how people buy and consume stuff, the company figures it can begin to make your grocery list for you.
For now, it’s just an idea in development. Amazon tried something similar with the Dash Replenishment Service, but that’s now mostly meant for things like smoke detectors and laundry machines. Keeping tabs on something as varied as food consumption is much harder. Both companies have had recurring deliveries for years, obviously, but Walmart’s plan is to be much more responsive to your actual needs rather than shipping you new cereal every two weeks no matter what.
Walmart is making a big push into AI-powered shopping and has set up a huge booth at CES 2024 to show off its latest and greatest. It’s launching a generative AI search engine for Walmart’s iOS app, which allows for much broader queries; instead of typing in the name of a TV or a specific ingredient, you can say “What do I need for a Super Bowl party?” and the bot will suggest some things to get.
Sam’s Club, Walmart’s Costco-like warehouse store, is also building a device that sits at the exit of the store and scans shoppers’ carts to make sure they’ve paid for everything in there. (The goal is to obviate the people standing at the doors manually checking everyone’s receipt and cart, and the long lines that process tends to create.) This, too, will sound familiar to anyone following Amazon — the company’s Go stores also use computer vision to track what’s in your cart. It’s rolling out to Sam’s Club stores now, and don’t be surprised to see something similar in a Walmart before long.
In general, Walmart’s goal is to use AI to make the shopping process easier and quicker. It’s investing in drone delivery to get stuff to you more quickly, and in all these AI tools to help you comb through the internet’s infinite shopping aisles. Sometimes that means making shopping fun; sometimes it means getting it over with faster. Sometimes it means you don’t do any shopping at all, and the milk just never runs out.