Case Study: Walmart’s Conversational AI Journey

Background

As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart has long been known for its relentless pursuit of innovation and its adaptability to market changes. It’s no surprise then that the company recognized the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI) early on. With a pioneering mindset, Walmart embarked on a journey over 2.5 years ago, harnessing the power of conversational AI to redefine retail and elevate the shopping experience for millions of its customers and employees worldwide. This case study delves into the intricacies of this journey, shedding light on Walmart’s strategies, challenges, and the future of retail in the age of AI.

Key Takeaways

  • Walmart unveiled its plans for a conversational AI platform three years ago and had already been exploring AI and machine learning for years.
  • The company’s conversational AI has seen significant application both for enhancing the shopping experience for customers and aiding in-store employees.
  • With the GenAI Playground, Walmart offers a controlled environment for its employees to safely experiment with generative AI models.

Deep Dive: Walmart’s Conversational AI Journey

Approach

Walmart has embarked on an ambitious mission to infuse the language of “retail speak” throughout every store and department using conversational AI. Central to this initiative is a commitment to ensuring transparency, fairness, and trust in all AI-driven endeavors. The Emerging Tech group at Walmart has played a pivotal role in this transformation, championing the integration of conversational AI across all sectors of the company. Their belief in the vast potential of conversational experiences underscores the company’s broader vision for a future where technology seamlessly enhances the retail experience.

Implementation

Walmart has embarked on various AI-driven projects to revolutionize the retail landscape. These initiatives range from the Converse shopping assistant, designed to guide shoppers, to “Ask Sam”, a tool tailored to assist store employees, and the innovative “Text to Shop” feature that streamlines the shopping process for customers. Internally, Walmart has fostered a culture of innovation by enabling teams throughout the company to craft their unique conversational experiences. This is achieved by harnessing advancements in natural language understanding, processing, and the capabilities of large language models. Furthermore, on a global scale, Walmart’s AI platform boasts of rapid deployment capabilities. A testament to this is its quick adoption in countries like Chile, where the platform seamlessly integrates without extensive language-specific programming.

Results

Through the integration of customer service automation, Walmart has observed a notable decrease in the duration of calls handled by representatives, resulting in a staggering 66 million assisted contacts. Furthermore, the “Ask Sam” tool has found favor among over two million employees, serving as a catalyst for increased productivity and more efficient customer engagements. Internationally, Walmart’s dedication to rapid deployment shines, especially in Chile. Within a mere few weeks of onboarding, the local teams rolled out over 60 distinct AI-centric workflows, culminating in a remarkable 20% boost in customer satisfaction.

Challenges and Barriers

Navigating the intricacies of large language models comes with its set of challenges. Central to these is Walmart’s commitment to delivering a “trustworthy experience” for its users. This involves managing the economic implications of such models, as well as addressing anomalies like hallucinations – instances where the model might generate fabricated responses. Like other frontrunners in the tech domain, Walmart finds itself walking the tightrope between fast-paced technological innovation and preserving the trust of its stakeholders. A salient aspect of this journey is ensuring that biases are kept at bay, particularly when the AI models in question interface directly with humans.

Future Outlook

The promise of AI in supporting individuals with disabilities is a burgeoning realm that Walmart is enthusiastic about delving into. The company recognizes the transformative potential of these technologies to cater to the unique needs of those with physical or neurological differences. Having laid a robust foundation, Walmart’s AI expedition is poised to permeate every aspect of its global operations, encompassing in-store encounters, online shopping dynamics, and enriched customer service experiences.

Conclusion

Walmart’s journey into AI, with a specific focus on conversational AI, is a testament to the retail giant’s commitment to leading the industry through innovation. By ensuring a balance between technology advancement, transparency, and trust, Walmart not only stays ahead in the retail game but also sets benchmarks for other businesses worldwide. Their journey, though filled with challenges, remains a masterclass in integrating AI in retail, showcasing that with the right approach and strategy, AI can truly revolutionize the way businesses operate and interact with their customers.

Sources:
How Walmart is using A.I. to make shopping better for its millions of customers
Walmart goes all-in on generative AI – but with guardrails
Walmart’s Secret Weapon for the Future of Retail: Conversational AI


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