- Walmart Labs last week announced an augmented reality (AR) scanner that has been integrated into its iOS app to help shoppers make product comparisons, Walmart Labs stated in a blog post. The AR scanner is now live in Walmart’s app.
- Most barcode scanners can only scan one code at a time but Walmart’s new AR scanner can be used to pan across shelves and retrieve pricing and customer rating details on the products it encounters, according to Walmart.
- The tool was developed by a team that won an internal Walmart hackathon, and uses Apple’s ARKit technology, which requires iOS 11.3, is only available on iPhone 6s and higher.
Retailers have commonly used AR tech in applications that, for example, help customers visualize what furnishings will look like in their houses. They've also sued them for facial recognition and to create media-rich 3D experiences for shoppers. Walmart has developed an AR use that it hopes will save customers time and money by enabling product and price comparisons while shoppers are in the aisles, the company’s blog post said. Whether it turns out to be a more practical and widely-used application remains to be seen.
"Walmart store shoppers love using our mobile app barcode scanner as a price checker," said Tim Sears, senior engineering manager at Walmart Labs. "Our team sees the potential of this product as so much more, though. When a customer launches the scanner, they get a direct connection between the digital and the physical world that their screen and camera lens creates for them."
Other companies are exploring related visual search applications. For example, Amazon and Snapchat are testing a feature that allows users to leverage the app’s camera function to search for items on Amazon. Forever 21 has a visual search and navigation tool based on artificial intelligence for its e-commerce business that increased the average purchase value in test categories by 20%. Target partnered with Pinterest to enable the retailer’s shoppers to use the Pinterest Lens visual search tool as part of the Target registry shopping experience. And eBay has released an Image Search API to allow external developers to use eBay's image recognition technology to help drive more listing, selling and buying activity through the online marketplace.
According to the post, Walmart Labs said several ideation sessions resulted in a concept that aims to solve three problems: how to speed up scanning load times, how to compare products on more than price, and how to increase usability by making experiences fun.
The AR scanner works after it is launched in the Walmart app, and then pointed at items on the shelf. Moving the phone from one product to another, a product tile on the screen is updated with information such as product name, price and a star rating with an indication of how many consumer reviews it is based on. A link to "related products" also appears.
"We designed our AR Scanner as an opt-in alternative to how we’ve traditionally approached scanning," Sears wrote in the blog post. "At Walmart Labs, we take plenty of risks, but we’re constantly measuring and evaluating data to ensure our risks are controlled and calculated."