Walmart Canada pumps $3.5bn into IoT, AI, blockchain in smart logistics splash
Walmart Canada is investing $3.5 billion in digital transformation over the next five years, including to develop smarter stores and distribution centres, and to strike new deals with local tech firms. The investment covers internet-of-things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) software, and blockchain-based transportation payments.
The company has invested $1 billion to redesign and refit shops in Canada during the past five years; the new $3.5 billion investment covers renovation of a further 150 shops – around a third of its total footprint in Canada – over three years. In-store ‘smartness’ will include robotics and computer vision cameras to bring automation and efficiency to retail operations.
The company is also expanding electronic shelf labels and scanners to monitor product in-store volumes, and introducing pick-up options at 270 stores with the trial also of backroom fulfilment centres at major stores to increase pickup and delivery rates. Technology will be applied to “accelerate the pickup experience”, the company said, including with smartphone notifications.
More notably, however, Walmart Canada is investing $1.1 billion to build two new distribution centres in Vaughan and Surrey, in Ontario and British Colombia, and to renovate another, in Cornwall, in Ontario. The Vaughan site, stretching to 550,000 square feet, will leverage automation technology from Netherlands-based logistics firm Vanderlande. It will open in 2024.
The Surrey distribution facility, at 300,000 square foot, is being coordinated by Germany-based logistics company Witron; it will open in 2022. The existing facility in Cornwall will feature new automated systems to manage apparel, health and beauty products, and other small general merchandise items. It will feature machine learning and collaborative robots (co-bots), and go live early next year.
As well, Walmart Canada is applying IoT-based sensing and AI-based sense-making tech to ramp up capacity across its distribution centres. The new $3.5 billion investment covers asset tracking sensors in 2,200 truck-trailers to give real-time data around quality and freshness of deliveries, plus a new analytics partnership with Texas-based o9 to predict and plan retail volumes.
It has also been working with Toronto based DLT Labs on “the world’s biggest blockchain solution” for transportation payments, the two companies said. DLT Labs claims its blockchain-based supply chain system has produced “dramatic savings” for Walmart Canada’s annual shipments, by reducing invoicing disputes between trucking companies and Walmart from 70 percent down to less than two percent.
John Bayliss, senior vice president for logistics and supply chain at Walmart Canada, said: “The retail business is as dynamic as ever and this investment ensures we’re developing a supply chain that is the envy of the world. The better the supply chain, the quicker our customers can get the products they want.”