Wal-Mart to Test Self-Driving Shopping Carts?
Despite various short-lived efforts over the years, most retail shopping carts are impressively low tech. However, a new patent issued to Wal-Mart paints a futuristic vision, with carts driving themselves from the parking lot right to the customer who called for it. If the patent is granted and Wal-Mart chooses to manufacture and deploy the carts, shoppers will be able leave their carts anywhere they want in Wal-Mart's parking lots and the carts will drive themselves to a collection area. And when needed, they'll also be able to drive themselves back into the store and to the specific aisle where they've been summoned.
Total Retail's Take: This is kind of cool. These carts would allow Wal-Mart's employees to be focused on more profitable customer service tasks as opposed to spending time neatening up the parking lot. It could also be a baby step toward making carts truly useful in retail. Carts could house navigational systems that steer you toward the exact items on your list. For that matter, they could take "accidental" detours by high-margin items and offer you a coupon — as long as you're right there. However, this idea isn't new. Four years ago, Microsoft was involved in a trial with Whole Foods about a cart that would also push marketing messages. That trial, however, suffered from some technical issues. And there are also issues of the cost of keeping the carts powered and connected to the network. Wal-Mart's effort could be the beginning of some intriguing research.
Melissa Campanelli is Editor-in-Chief of Total Retail. She is an industry veteran, having covered all aspects of retail, tech, digital, e-commerce, and marketing over the past 20 years. Melissa is also the co-founder of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle.