Walmart-owned Sam’s Club will open up a new store in Dallas next week that will feature a high-tech take on grocery shopping with cashierless checkout, in-store search and augmented reality. The move will also escalate Walmart’s innovation battle with rival Amazon and its cashierless Go stores.

Dubbed Sam’s Club Now, the new store concept will feature the company’s Scan & Go payment technology. Members who shop at Sam’s Club Now will now be required to use the Scan & Go app to scan and pay for items and serve as the foundation for other features such as:

  • Smart shopping lists. Using machine learning and purchase data, Sam’s Club Now will automatically generate a shopping list for users and automatically update it as items are purchased.
  • In-store navigation. Search for an item and the app will navigate you to its location in the store. Eventually, the app will create an optimal route for shoppers based on their smart shopping list.
  • Augmented Reality. This doesn’t seem to be fully baked yet, but from the company’s corporate blog post: “We’ll bring items to life in the club by sharing new ways to use them, and we’ll work to integrate stories that highlight cool features, including how items are sourced. We also have plans to use augmented reality to transform members’ digital carts into pirate ships. Or maybe you’d prefer a rocket? More on that soon!”

The use of Scan & Go will also mean a new role for us humans. Sam’s Club is creating a new position called the Member Host, which the company wants you to think of like a “concierge of the club.” Instead of just ringing customers up, they will help guide and inform shoppers. This is actually a common theme among companies implementing automation. From Cafe X’s robot barista to Walmart’s shelfbot, the repetitive tasks are taken over by apps or robots and humans are kept around to provide service, expertise and perform higher level tasks.

The launch of this newfangled Sam’s Club Now is a shot across the bow of Amazon, which has been rolling out its Amazon Go stores at a rapid clip, recently, opening up three locations in Seattle, two in Chicago and one in San Francisco (with more to come).

Sam’s Club Now and Amazon Go aren’t exactly analogous to one another. Go stores don’t require any manual scanning, instead relying on banks of cameras and sensors to know what you purchased. And the two stores are going after different markets. Sam’s Club Now takes up 32,000 square feet and is more of a full grocery shopping experience as opposed to smaller, more convenience-like Go stores, which typically hover at around ~2,000 square feet and are meant for grabbing things quickly.

However, they are both pushing a technology-driven change in the way we shop for our food. Between the advancements these two giants are making, as well as the work of startups like Trigo Vision and AIpoly, among others, 2019 is shaping up to be a watershed year for the cashierless retail revolution.

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