Walmart Execs Unpack What Its Gen AI Launch Means for Shoppers and Brands

Whether you’re the natural party planner or the one reluctantly tasked with organizing, there’s an undeniable truth: Effective event planning hinges on meticulous attention to detail. Artificial intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI, has found a way to prove itself to be a valuable tool for simplifying the event planning and shopping process. 

And that’s a sentiment Walmart is looking to act on with its latest technology efforts. Following the introduction of a generative AI tool for its corporate employees in August, Walmart is looking to broaden the use of this technology for its customer base to jazz up customers’ event planning and has plans to extend these experiences beyond party planning to other product categories across its website.  

In an interview with PYMNTS, Walmart execs elaborate on how their latest initiative will empower customers to explore a more extensive selection of products and brands. This is made possible through their enhanced personalized capabilities, which begins with an upgraded search function that categorizes products. 

“Now, we can answer more complex and ‘mission-based’ customer questions, like giving lots of party planning ideas, instead of just returning a single item, like balloons. This means a wider range of products and brands can be seen in response to a single queries,” said Jon Alferness, chief product officer, Walmart U.S. 

To provide some context, AI-driven recommendation systems analyze a customer’s historical purchases, browsing history, and preferences to offer products that align with their tastes. These customized recommendations enhance customer satisfaction and drive sales. 

In light of this, third-party sellers are poised to reap some benefits.  

Impact for Third-Party Sellers

Just last month, PYMNTS reported that with the holiday season on the horizon, Walmart is gearing up to capture the attention and spending of global consumers by placing an emphasis on its third-party marketplace. 

Read more: Walmart Hopes Third-Party Marketplace Will Snag Holiday Spend From Amazon 

As part of their intensified focus on third-party marketplaces, Walmart is harnessing the power of generative AI as one of its key strategies. 

“Enhanced visibility and discovery are key aspects of our improved search system, as it effectively connects users to the right products using natural language and real-world context,” Alferness said.

“This improvement facilitates the exploration of our extensive product assortment, ensuring a seamless user experience in discovering a diverse range of products.” 

With that, brands can anticipate that customers will have various avenues beyond simply using the Walmart search bar to discover their products. 

Infiltration to Voice, AR and Beyond

“Customers expect multimodal ways of shopping, and that means brands and retailers need to develop capabilities that can meet customers where they are, however, they need to shop. Voice Shopping is the natural evolution of our conversational commerce work, and our goal is to leverage the power of the native app and natural language to support low friction, hands-free shopping, as well as access to Walmart services,” said Dominique Essig, vice president, Conversational Commerce & Replenishment. 

Essig also noted that last month, Walmart commenced a series of tests aimed at integrating voice commands into the Walmart app. Customers who participated in these test groups shopped, initiated returns, and swiftly navigated to their intended destinations using voice commands.  

Looking ahead, Walmart envisions a future where customers can initiate shopping via voice simply by saying ‘Hey Walmart’ and accomplish more complex tasks, including booking time slots. 

“Ultimately, we want to use Voice Shopping to make it even faster and more convenient to shop the Walmart app, and we’re excited to see our learnings from this initial testing so we can continue to develop and enhance this functionality,” Essig said. 

As Walmart aims to expand into augmented reality (AR) shopping and integrate generative AI with AR for design assistance, the company intends to use its data resources, including catalog details and customer feedback, to refine and create experiences for its user base and apply these capabilities to as many products as possible. 

“Our goal is to create a platform that’s super easy and welcoming for sellers and partners, to provide an endless aisle where customers find what they need and discover items they may not yet know they want,” said Srini Venkatesan, executive vice president, Walmart U.S. Omni Platforms and Tech.  

This includes applying the same advanced technology, capabilities, and tools originally crafted for first-party suppliers and extending these advantages to marketplace sellers to ensure that marketplace sellers derive the maximum value from Walmart’s offerings, all with the overarching objective of enhancing the customer experience. 

“Customers expect more personalized and easier shopping experiences, and we believe that gen AI, AR, VR [virtual reality], and extended reality can help with that,” Venkatesan continued. “We are pushing the limits of technology and retail to imagine and create new shopping experiences.”