In April 2017, Wal-Mart filed a patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office regarding a new sensory device that can be paired with shopping carts. This patent was recently published, making it available to the public. According to Gizmodo, this technology will assist customers in navigating large Wal-Mart stores to help them find the items on their shopping list, competing with the convenient, easily navigable process that online shopping provides.
Along with the shopping cart patent, a number of related patents were also published at the same time, hinting at Wal-Mart’s intention to step up to the technological plate and compete with virtual giants like Amazon and Google. One of the most significant patents filed along with the shopping carts is that of the drone assistant, which would essentially eliminate the need for a human cashier by providing price verification and navigation assistance.
Though typically behind the curve of technological innovation, Wal-Mart seems to be pushing on the gas pedal and trying to be a legitimate contender in the e-commerce race. They don’t seem to be accelerating toward online platforms so much as roboticized brick-and-mortar stores.
But that people like about online shopping is not that they get to interact with robots, but that they don’t have to change their clothes or get in their car to place an order. And when it comes to troubleshooting and customer service, most people prefer to confide in a human than a patented technology.
If the Wal-Mart technology is seamless, it might provide shoppers who like to be in the store with an easier experience. But it’s hard to believe that a robot-led shopping trip to Wal-Mart’s electronic section could come close to rivaling the convenience of clicking a button and having a 48-inch smart TV delivered to your doorstep a few days after a few clicks. Even if Wal-Mart’s shopping carts use state-of-the-art technology developed by cutting-edge programmers, the likelihood that a robotified brick-and-mortar experience is enough to catch up with Amazon and Google’s ever-improving ecommerce experience is unlikely.