Don’t say Walmart hasn’t been an innovator. It’s mastered the retail market, managing massive profits while keeping prices low. Next up: self-driving shopping carts?
A patent application published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Sept 8, 2016, and filed by Walmart in March 2016 suggests that the company has at least considered the possibility. The application depicts a Roomba-esque motorized device attached to the underside of a shopping cart. Customers use their smartphone or other mobile device to summon the internet-connected device. From there, the cart is controlled by a centralized computer, and navigates the store using its sensors. The shopping cart will serve as a guide to different items the shopper is looking for throughout the store.
The patent application says the self-driving cart can help improve the customer experience, specifically when employees are busy, or are too new to know where everything is in the store. With increasing competition from e-commerce retailers like Amazon (Walmart recently acquired Jet.com, an Amazon competitor, for $3 billion), making sure customers have a great in-store experience is essential.
It should be noted that companies file patents all the time, and an application or even a granted patent doesn’t mean a company is actively working on a product.
While a self-driving shopping cart may seem like a bit much, Walmart has been releasing new tech-driven products focused on the in-store experience. The retailer introduced Walmart Pay, a mobile wallet, for customers in December 2015. At a conference in August 2016, Walmart exec Daniel Eckert said over 20 million customers use it per month.