Walmart Leverages AI to Substitute Groceries

Walmart has leveraged artificial intelligence (AI) to help the retailer substitute grocery items in online orders for items that may be out of stock.
Walmart shopping

AI was used to help both customers and Walmart’s Personal Shoppers complete orders, Progressive Grocer reported. Walmart recently detailed how it utilized the technology in a corporate blog post penned by Srini Venkatesan, executive vice president of Walmart Global Tech.

“The decision on how to substitute is complex and highly personal to each customer,” wrote Venkatesan. “If the wrong choice is made, it can negatively impact customer satisfaction and increase costs. In the past, our Personal Shoppers would go through a manual process to determine the best way to manage a substitution. But there are nearly 100 different factors that can go into that decision. Trying to account for all of these would not only be too difficult, but it would also be incredibly time-consuming.”

The revelations about Walmart’s use of AI comes as consumers continue to shop online for their grocery orders, through both pickup and delivery. With pickup and delivery surging during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping customers happy with their orders--even as some items became out of stock--was critical. 

Walmart’s tech was built on hundreds of different variables, from size, type, brand, price, aggregate shopper data, individual customer preference, current inventory, and more--so the deep learning AI could determine the best next available item. Customers can then approve the substituted item or let Walmart know they don’t want it. That information further helps the AI tech learn, improving Walmart’s shopping algorithm.

Walmart reported its customers say yes to the substituted item 95% of the time. 

“The solution is also designed to make our associates’ jobs easier,” Venkatesan wrote. “Instead of having to guess, the Personal Shopper can be told precisely what the customer may prefer. If our Personal Shoppers are preparing orders and come across an item that is not available, our system suggests the alternative product. Our tech even shows our Personal Shopper where the item is located in the store, simplifying the decision-making process for our team and enabling them to prepare orders quickly and efficiently.”

Venkatesan noted Walmart is continuing to update and improve the tech: “The best part is, throughout the entire process, the system is learning and getting smarter based on customer input and actions.”

See the full story at Progressive Grocer.


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