Walmart’s new AI predicts grocery substitutes for customers.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, big-box retailer Walmart uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help customers and personal shoppers better handle the still-increasing online demand for groceries.

Srini Venkatesan, Walmart’s global tech executive vice president, noted in a blog post on Thursday that as Americans increasingly turned to the internet to shop for necessities, stores like Walmart were faced with a “unique challenge.”

Popular items quickly sold out due to the alternate shopping method combined with the volume of in-store shoppers – especially in March and April. Walmart corporate affairs announced in July that the company had hired more than 400,000 new associates.”

“Walmart’s solution was to utilize AI to assist both customers and Personal Shoppers in selecting the best substitute for an out-of-stock item,” Venkatesan explained. A video included in the blog post depicts a Walmart personal shopper who must substitute for online order. Choosing what is closest to the item they initially selected is a complex and “highly personal” process, according to Venkatesan, with nearly 100 different factors influencing the decision.

Furthermore, he stated that the wrong choice could hurt customer satisfaction and raise costs and that manual processes are complex and time-consuming. The “technology solution” to this problem employs “deep learning AI” to consider hundreds of variables in real-time, including size, type, brand, price, aggregate shopper data, individual customer preference, and current inventory.

On November 24, 2009, shoppers wait in line to pay for their purchases at a Walmart store in Los Angeles, a few days before Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that kicks off the holiday shopping season. The following move is to request approval from the client for the substituted item, which Venkatesan describes as an “important signal” that will be fed back into learning algorithms to improve the accuracy of future recommendations.

Furthermore, AI aims to make Walmart associates’ jobs more manageable, and the technology shows where each item is located in the store to reduce time spent on an order. According to Venkatesan, as Walmart updates and improves the AI, customers respond positively, and the system is “learning and getting smarter” as a result of data.

“Our goal is to never be out of stock and never to have to make substitutions. However, when this occurs, the technology we’ve developed assists in ensuring that customers receive the next best thing,” he concluded.

According to Tech Crunch, Walmart offers over 150,000 different grocery-related products. According to Walmart’s website, approximately 220 million customers and members visit about 10,500 stores, clubs, and e-commerce websites in 24 countries. In March, its corporate office announced that the $35 minimum order requirement for Express delivery would be eliminated.

The company stated that it had 170,000 trained personal shoppers on its payroll. Express delivery is currently available in nearly 3,000 stores, reaching almost 70% of the US population. Walmart Global Tech launched the Me@Walmart app for its US store associates earlier this month.

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