BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Walmart’s startup incubator is developing a no-checkout shopping experience known as Project Kepler, according to online technology news source Recode. Also in the works is a project called Code Eight, which includes the big-box retailer’s recent tests of a personal-shopping service and delivery meant for higher-income customers in urban markets.
While Recode clarifies that these plans are still in the early stages, and it could be a decade before the tools are ready for public use, the report is a clear sign that Walmart is challenging Amazon for dominance in digital retail.
Here's a look at details of the clandestine Project Kepler, Code Eight and Walmart’s plans for the future as they stand today …
1. Project Kepler
Project Kepler, located in Hoboken, N.J., is led by Mike Hanrahan, co-founder and former chief technology officer for Jet.com, which Walmart acquired in 2016 to spearhead the retailer’s online efforts.
One online job listing for Project Kepler seeks a “computer vision engineer,” according to Recode. That job’s purpose is to create a “best-in-class consumer experience in the physical retail space.”
Walmart has publicly and proactively reassured its employees that they and their jobs are a priority for the company. The retailer currently has more than 2 million employees worldwide, many of whom work checkout, according to Recode.
2. Code Eight
It’s no secret that Walmart’s primary customers are generally mid- to low-income Americans in rural areas. But Walmart is looking to expand that consumer base to "busy NYC moms" with Code Eight. This project strives to give customers product recommendations and allow them to make purchases through text messaging, according to Recode.
Household items are delivered through the service for free within 24 hours, and other purchases are delivered within two business days, the report said. Returns are picked up free of charge at a customer’s apartment or house.
Jennifer Fleiss, co-founder of Rent the Runway, a clothing rental service, is leading Code Eight, which is based in New York City.
Eventually, Code Eight could charge a membership fee for the premium delivery service, but those currently testing the program are doing so free of charge.
Using the text-to-buy service reportedly looks like an automated bot but feels like there is a human being on the other end of the message.
3. Walmart's future
With Project Kepler and Code Eight, Walmart is attempting to beat Amazon in the race to recreate the physical and online shopping experience.
When Amazon first launched with the ability for customers to leave their own product reviews, the idea was revolutionary. Today, the feature is a staple of any e-commerce experience. Walmart is hoping to be a similar trendsetter in this new era of retail.
To achieve this, Walmart is exploring machine learning, artificial intelligence and other futuristic tools to try to draw in the shopper of tomorrow. Whatever becomes of Project Kepler and Code Eight, it will likely end with Walmart looking a lot more like Amazon.