Walmart's Sam's Club opens an anti-Amazon tech hub

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A Sam's Club warehouse in Dallas will test a wide range of mobile technology including — artificial intelligence, augmented reality, voice and cashierless checkout — to stay competitive against Amazon Go's high-tech spin on retail.

Called Sam's Club Now, the store builds off of Walmart's two-year-old Scan&Go app to reimagine how staff and shoppers engage with each other throughout an entire session, rather than seeking to simply pare down the point of sale experience. Scan&Go has provided a head start, with 90 percent of initial users using the app again on their next grip and a 40 percent increase in overall use this year, the retailer reports.

Sam's Club is positioning the store as a "lab" to incubate, test and refine technology. Walmart did not return a request for comment on the store's timing, and whether it would be incorporated into the broader Walmart chain.

Walmart's rivalry with Amazon is playing out on a number of fronts, and scan and go technology is seen as a key counter technology to Amazon Go for incumbent brick-and-mortar retailers. The technology is seen as away to free up space within the store by redeploying staff.

At the new Sam's Club in Dallas, scan and go will combine with artificial intelligence and purchase data to autofill a member's shopping list, which can be updated as a consumer moves through the store. Sam's Club will also use a combination of voice search and navigation tools to determine the shopper's best route through the 32,000-square-foot store, which is about a quarter of the size of a normal Sam's Club location — but still larger than most current cashierless stores.

Augmented reality will provide information on sourcing and uses for objects (or turn shoppers' carts into virtual pirate ships or rockets). Other tests include electronic shelf labels that will instantly update prices, and 700 cameras that will inform store layout changes.

Walmart and Sam's Club hope the store will be a higher-tech version of Amazon Go, which is gradually adding locations after opening earlier this year in Seattle.

Amazon Go has inspired myriad competitors, including Casino, a French grocery chain that, like Sam's Club, is focusing heavily on customer experience. Other fintechs such as Standard Cognition and Zippin want traditional retailers to adopt their cashierless technology.

Sam's Club parent Walmart is also pushing digital checkout via its Walmart Pay app and recently announced collaboration with PayPal.

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Retailers Digital payments Mobile payments Internet of things Walmart Pay Walmart Amazon