Walmart reportedly explores cashier-free stores to keep pace with Amazon

How do you like the idea of waltzing into a store, taking what you need, and then getting the hell out? No checkouts, no lines, no waiting.

Walmart is exploring the idea of stores without staff where you can simply “grab and go,” with computer vision technology monitoring what you place in your bag so it can automatically tot up the amount and take it from your bank account, sources claiming to have knowledge of the matter told Recode this week.

Yes, it does sound very similar to Amazon’s Go store, a concept unveiled about a year ago but which has yet to launch for the public. The last we heard, Amazon was having some difficulties at its test store in Seattle regarding the all-important payment system, with the technology unable to track more than 20 customers at a time.

It’s not clear how similar Walmart’s technology is to Amazon’s, but it nevertheless appears to be creating something along the same lines to offer a speedier and more convenient shopping experience that really doesn’t feel like shopping at all.

Walmart’s effort, codenamed Project Kepler, is part of the company’s Store No. 8 startup incubator, and is reportedly headed up by Mike Hanrahan, the co-founder and former chief technology officer of online shopping service Jet.com. Walmart acquired Jet.com for around $3 billion in 2016 and took on Hanrahan and Marc Lore, Jet.com’s other co-founder. Lore now leads Walmart’s ecommerce efforts and the pair are using their experience to battle the likes of Amazon while attempting to broaden the customer base of the big-box retailer.

Another initiative reportedly underway is a personal shopping service targeting “busy NYC moms,” according to Recode’s sources. Managed by Rent the Runway co-founder Jennifer Fleiss, the service would use text messages to send product recommendations to shoppers, which they can then quickly purchase simply by replying. Once again with Amazon in its sights, many of the offered products would be delivered to customers within 24 hours, or within two business days at the most, while returns would be collected by the company at no extra charge.

Walmart’s reported projects indicate the company’s determination to use technology to bolster its business and expand its customer base to keep pace with the likes of Amazon. However, we’ll have to wait and see whether the cashier-free store and messaging-based shopping service develop into a real offering, as it’s still early days for both initiatives.

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