As the largest retailer in the world, Walmart is the leader in leveraging transformational technologies to improve the customer shopping experience, reduce costs and enhance efficiency. Walmart is committed to saving customers money and minimizing its environmental footprint. In January 2019, Walmart China launched its Omega 8 innovation platform. The platform helps open cross-industry communication channels and extend cross-border innovation
“For Walmart, innovation is in our DNA, and we are actively embracing innovation from beginning to end. Omega 8 acts as a bridge between technology companies and Walmart to jointly create technical solutions that can solve for the pain points of retail,” said Ella Chan, Vice President, Strategy and Innovation at Walmart, in a public speech.
Since its official launch, Omega 8 has built a sustainable communication platform for connecting Walmart and leading technology companies. It has focused on the most complex challenges retailers are facing and identified innovative approaches through scalable technology solutions which deliver rapid value. After more than a year of development, the platform has completed dozens of innovative proof-of-concepts and has selected only a handful of companies that meet the high standards of Walmart. The best of those projects will be deployed in Walmart stores to be used for optimizing store operations and improving customer experience.
In response to increasing customer demand for self-service shopping, Walmart is leading the way by launching self-service fresh produce scales in many stores. This improves the shopping experience by saving customers’ time and making it easier for them to shop, all while lowering operational costs. With conventional self-service scales, customers often needed to click through several screens to identify the correct product among hundreds of possible options. This can be confusing, often leading to customers requiring associate assistance to successfully complete the weighing process.
RetailAI® Fresh by Malong Technologies is an AI-powered self-service scale solution that integrates state-of-the-art product recognition. Malong’s technology is revolutionary and is currently shipping to stores as one of the earliest waves of innovation being deployed via the Omega 8 platform. RetailAI® Fresh provides a proven solution for Walmart customers’ interest in self-service shopping by reducing friction and delivering significant business value. Malong’s technology seamlessly integrates into Walmart’s already-deployed traditional self-service scales, transforming them into cutting-edge AI devices, minimizing Walmart’s need to purchase new equipment.
During use, customers simply place the bagged items (e.g. fruits, vegetables and other loose/dry goods) on the scale and intuitively, RetailAI® Fresh does the rest of the work. The system accurately identifies the product without any change to normal customer or shopping behavior – this even includes items within multiple layers of clear plastic bags or other protective materials.
Due to the incredible technology delivered by Malong, customers are greeted with a “one-tap” ready ranked list to select on screen. In the past, there were multiple screens and taps involved, which increased friction in the shopping experience. Now, with just one click, customers are empowered with a far simpler and quicker experience to print their payment label and complete the process.
RetailAI® Fresh also offers a breakthrough in AI capability to lower operational costs. Normally, an AI-based product recognition system requires data to be collected, labeled and trained in a separate process involving significant manual and high-cost effort. In this traditional machine learning approach, store associates would need to be involved for data collection, professional annotators called upon for data labeling, and high caliber data scientists for model training. This leads to significant inefficiency because this process requires continuous updating as new products are introduced to the store.
RetailAI® Fresh by Malong offers a world class, patented, self-learning AI system deployed by the world’s largest retailer. This new approach enables the automatic learning of new SKUs, without requiring any manual human intervention and becomes smarter over time in a positive feedback loop.
In order to help people live better through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, the solution is carefully designed to protect customer privacy. The camera involved points downward, only capturing the produce placed on the scale within its field of view, not the shopper. Additionally, since the system is based on self-learning, all data processing is done automatically by the system itself.
The Omega 8 platform provides a principled way of working for participating startups and fast-tracking the top companies into Walmart’s stores. For example, there is a strict 60-day PoC process deadline, which helps to keep all stakeholders focused on delivery, avoiding feature creep. The RetailAI® Fresh solution, although highly sophisticated, was able to be delivered as a PoC well within this timeline.
This feat was achieved through Malong’s world-class development on leading software and hardware engineering. From a software perspective, the solution leveraged a trailblazing “weakly supervised learning” algorithm from Malong called “Label-PEnet,” which was integral in enabling it to achieve self-learning. Malong is also a NVIDIA Inception Premier member and leveraged industry-leading NVIDIA T4 Tensor Core GPUs for AI inference in combination with the NVIDIA EGX optimized edge software stack running on Dell EMC PowerEdge servers. Through the combination of world-class software development and leading hardware platform solutions, Malong was able to deliver groundbreaking AI acceleration at the Walmart store edge.
Today, the solution has been production-deployed throughout Walmart stores, delighting customers by helping them check out produce far quicker than ever before. The customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, reducing the average time to weigh and, in turn, meaningfully eliminating customer queues during peak hours. According to data from ten Walmart stores running live, average weighing time was reduced by approximately 40%, which further resulted in high customer satisfaction and increased overall transactions. These outcomes provide clear evidence of a significant improvement in overall customer experience and return on investment. By leveraging such advanced technology, Walmart is able to offer its customers a smoother, faster and friendlier self-service experience.
“With the Omega 8 platform, we want to create an entrepreneurial atmosphere for technology companies to better understand the entire retail chain, and then help inspire more innovative ideas to accelerate retail digital transformation,” said Charlene Ma, the Director of Innovation (Omega 8), Strategy and Innovation. “With a deep understanding of retail needs, and deep integration of leading AI vision technology, Malong’s AI product recognition solution for self-service scales is a strong example of a cross-border innovation. It is a great launch for applying cutting-edge technology to retail and contributing to everyone’s daily life.”
“Through Walmart’s Omega 8 platform, we have the opportunity to dive deep into the retail industry. Our partnership allows us to make significant impact by delivering high-value solutions that reduce shrink, create a more positive customer shopping experience, return rapid value back to the business, all while leveraging state of the art and scalable artificial intelligence technology,” said Matt Scott, co-founder and CEO of Malong Technologies. “As a technology provider dedicated to helping our customers apply AI product recognition, we focus on the real needs of the industry and are fortunate to work with retail leaders such as Walmart.”
In the first wave of deployment, the Malong Technologies’ solution is being launched in 100 Walmart stores in China through Omega 8. This is providing a vast number of Walmart customers an opportunity to experience the benefits that technology innovation can bring to everyday living.
Customer focus, embracing innovation, and encouraging open collaboration are the core elements of the Walmart Omega 8 success story. In the future, Omega 8 will continue to deploy technologies that empower customers and associates. These innovations will not only play a role in Walmart but offer industry leading solutions that can advance the global retail industry.