Walmart shows off its progress with augmented reality showrooms

Walmart shows off its progress with augmented reality showrooms

Walmart showed off its use of augmented reality and artificial intelligence in its retail operations. It turns out that AR is leading to better digital sales and cool new applications that haven’t been done before.

The techniques include virtual try-on of outfits, virtual showroom experiences and digital twins, said Desirée Gosby, vice president of emerging technology at Walmart Global Tech, in an interview with VentureBeat.

She emphasized the importance of AR and related technologies for enhancing customer experiences and improve productivity.

Gosby, who has been at Walmart for 3.5 years, said that to make real progress, the industry needs standardized formats to support industry-wide efforts in creating digital twins and reconfiguring stores for different product mixes.

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“Walmart has been thinking about AR for a long time, but we are starting to double down on the work we are doing about 2.5 years ago,” Gosby said.

In addition to AR, Walmart is reviewing technologies like spatial awareness and computing, conversational AI and more.

“We are really looking at how we can create a transformational experience for our customers,” Gosby said. “The idea is to transform the experience for associates and for customers. We’re really focusing on how we actually do that at Walmart scale.”

Vision and foundation

While Walmart has already released several AR applications, the experiences it’s launching this year extend beyond providing a visual representation – they are interactive and social, enabling customers to discover and share new items.

Walmart is building its AR tech in a way that can extend beyond bringing virtual environments to handheld devices, to bring customers into these environments for truly immersive shopping journeys.
Most of the AR experiences are powered by the company’s core AR platform, Retina, which empowers all businesses in Walmart to innovate and create immersive experiences.

And by leaning into AI, Walmart has been able to scale its AR experiences as needed. The customer-facing AR products include virtual try-on in beauty, hair, makeup, apparel (where you can choose your own model from among 150 models), optical, and view things how they would look in your own home.

High-level AR roadmap

Walmart AR in action.

The company has shown off its dynamic showroom, Shop With Friends application (it was previously announced at CES, but general availability is coming this summer, and AR paint coming this fall. So when you try on something virtually, you can share it with friends to get feedback on what they think.

Gosby said that when customers interact with the suite of AR features, the company said that it sees improvements in conversion rates, reduction in return rates and improvements in add-to-cart rates.

Walmart plans to continue to evolve AR experiences as customers are increasingly savvy and expect tech innovations that make shopping easier and more immersive.

While many recent solutions have focused on bringing AR to customers’ devices, Walmart’s longer-term vision is an AR experience that brings customers into experiences that are as immersive, interactive and social as in-person shopping.

Walmart is trying out new AR experiences.

In addition to the overarching AR future of retail story, Walmart has a few experiences coming down the pipeline.

The company is also doing work to help employees become more productive at scale. Walmart is looking to take the basic building blocks of technology and build a platform. So far, it has released six experiences in the AR space in two years.

In the virtual try-on space, Walmart moved early and now you can choose from among 150 models and see what represents you.

“You can see what an outfit looks like on you, take a picture of yourself, and see what something looks like in your home,” she said. “Beauty and optical are real-time experiences where you can see what frames look like on you. We have expanded makeup and leveraged the 3D assets we created.”

The virtual showroom experiences can inspire you to buy furniture and things like that, Gosby said.

“The approach that we’re taking comes down to the core of of how we scale,” Gosby said. “We’re using all different techniques. We really focus on leveraging AI to generate our assets, especially for geometries that are a little less complex. And then we use both generative AI techniques as well as procedural generation. We’re also looking at photogrammetry.”

Improving productivity for workers

Walmart is letting shoppers design their own spaces.

Walmart is also using XR to improve productivity for associates, she said. Right now, the company is using AR applications on smartphones to leverage the tech the company already has in place with its workforce. They can use AR applications married with spatial computing to understand where products are in the store and find them for shoppers faster than they otherwise can.

Gosby recognizes that the tech with XR headsets and glasses is getting better and that could become something the company deploys at scale in the future. Meanwhile, it’s getting the AR applications and turn-by-turn navigation in place via smartphones as the foundation for training associates.

“The experiences are coming. We are experimenting with head-mounted displays. Hopefully it will be cost effective” to deploy across the whole workforce, she said.

In the meantime, the company has been using headsets for training for quite some time. For instance, the company does active shooter training in the stores. Using VR enables the company to cover a lot of scenarios in a short time.

With more than 2.1 million global employees, such technologies save time and costs too, Gosby said.

The main job is to make associates working with customers more effective. Removing friction is important for speeding up the workers and so AR assets are leveraged in the stores.

“We build on top of what Apple and Google provide. Mobile is stable and good and lets us create tailored experiences. Some are bleeding edge,” Gosby said. “How do we make employees more productive? We have done training for a while. We use tech for inventory management. One area we are looking at is leveraging digital twins for swapping out digital items dynamically. We are doing HMD explorations.”

House Flip integrated Walmart purchasing so you can buy physical goods in the game.
House Flip integrated Walmart purchasing so you can buy physical goods in the game.

For Walmart, a tech can’t just be purely experimental. It has to be robust enough to roll out among the 2.1 million employees.

“There’s always going to be places where it’s more on the bleeding edge,” she said.

Some of the tech will be announced later this year, particularly in shopping with friends. At the CES trade show in January, Walmart announced a partnership with Unity. It is also doing commerce by taking advantage of commerce moments within games, such as selling gardening tools in a home improvement game.

“We see more customers in the gaming environments and we want to meet their needs where they are there,” Gosby said. “It’s not one thing in isolation. What we are starting to see is how you can combine all of those things in an area. We see it will be multimodal, especially with AR and digital/physical commerce. It requires all these different technologies. It lets us imagine what we can create. This is Walmart’s augmented reality journey. AR will be more interesting than just 3D representation.”

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