When you close your eyes and imagine a tech company, Walmart probably isn’t the first to come to mind. The retail giant may be looking to change your mind.
Walmart filed a number of tech-related patent applications that suggest the company is looking to make its operation more tech-oriented. Let’s start with the logistics side: Walmart is seeking to patent an “automated warehouse storage system” which utilizes compact, autonomous robotic vehicles for organization and order fulfillment.
The goal of this tech is to achieve a “very high or even total level of automation” within a warehouse environment, Walmart said in its filing.
On the delivery side, the company wants to patent methods for merchandise delivery using both “autonomous ground vehicles” and “unmanned aerial vehicles.” As the title implies, this filing details a delivery system using a larger autonomous delivery vehicle (a.k.a., a self-driving truck) and a delivery drone.
In some scenarios, these vehicles work together – like when the truck can’t complete the delivery and needs the drone to wrap up the last leg. Walmart noted that this tech prevents delivery delays by creating a “back-up mechanism” if a traditional delivery can’t be completed.
And finally, on the consumer side, the company is looking into ways to determine “attribute affinities” for users. This tech is essentially a personalized recommendation system for ecommerce shoppers, which takes into account things like user transaction and engagement data to create an “affinity value” determining whether or not a product recommendation will be a match for a user.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Walmart take an interest in a tech push. The company announced plans for drone delivery in 2021, and promised in March to bring the option to 4 million households by the end of 2022. By the end of 2022, the company had completed roughly 6,000 drone deliveries.
Walmart’s latest patents stand to make operations much more efficient across the board, said Irusha Peiris, retail analyst and portfolio manager for William O’Neil. But efficiency likely isn’t the only reason for the company’s renewed interest in tech.
While Walmart is a leader in the brick-and-mortar, Amazon, its biggest competitor, is the top dog of e-commerce, and has mastered the art of fast delivery. Taken all together, from logistics to autonomous delivery to user recommendations, Walmart seems trying to “narrow the gap” between it and Amazon, Peiris said.
“It’s a race to better serve the customer and get the products to the customer quicker,” Peiris said. “They’re filing these patents to try to build a slightly better mousetrap, to make it a little bit more efficient and propose a better value than their competitors.”
But it’s not just Amazon that the retail giant is trying to compete with. Other retail chains like Target are also getting into tech, with fast delivery and pick-up being a main focus, said Peiris. While a tech investment seems like a big leap for a traditional brick-and-mortar shop like Walmart, Peiris said it may be necessary to keep up with consumer trends.
“The standards keep getting raised,” Peiris said. “You have to be that much more efficient or you will lose market share. They’re all incremental improvements, all ways to stay connected to the customer, and more importantly, retain the customer.”