Walmart reimagines retail processes

and more news for digital executives, by Mitch Betts ▸ developments at Humana, American Express, Williams-Sonoma, J.P. Morgan Chase ▸ CxO career news ▸ Brain food: Beware of 'initiative overload'

Newsletter by Mitch Betts © Ampersand Reports 2018, all rights reserved.
Photo: Walmart media kit (Black Friday, 2017)

New Walmart patent filings show creative thinking about shopping carts, checkout, and convenience

Just in the past month (August), Walmart Inc. has applied for patents covering self-checkout with a mobile app; shopping carts with biometric sensors and RFID chips in the handle; and even an invention that opens those flimsy plastic shopping bags with a poof of air.

Applying for a patent doesn’t necessarily mean the patent will be granted, nor does it guarantee that the invention will be commercially available anytime soon. But the patent filings show a wide-ranging R&D effort focused on the intersection of automation and shopper convenience.

In a patent application titled, “Method for Self-Checkout with a Mobile Device,” Walmart describes a mobile app that scans the bar code of products picked up for purchase, creates an itemized purchase list, lets the shopper remove items from the list, and generates a final bar code for the whole order to be scanned at checkout. (See diagrams, for U.S. Patent Application No. 20180240088.) The goal is to skip the process of taking items out of the shopping cart for checkout.

The first name in the list of inventors is David Nelms, who is Walmart’s director of mobile in-store product management, “part of the @WalmartLabs Mobile team tasked with creating mobile experiences,” according to Nelms’ LinkedIn profile.

Walmart also envisions reinventing the physical shopping cart itself. The retailer has applied for patents for the following:

  • a shopping cart with a biometric sensor and RFID chips in the handle. When the retailer’s RFID scanner obtains the biometric data, the store system can authenticate the customer’s account, retrieve the customer’s preferences and preferred payment method, and then “allow the customer to select products to buy on the interactive screen.” (U.S. Patent Application No. 20180237048)

  • a cart handle that continuously collects biometric data about each customer’s stress level and notifies the staff if there’s a sick or elderly customer who needs assistance. (U.S. Patent Application No. 20180240554)

In addition, Walmart was granted a patent for a “shopping cart deflection measurement system,” which uses sensors to measure whether the basket has become full, and communicates with the store manager’s system. One application: The system “can be used to monitor customer traffic within the retail environment, and estimate when customers are completing their shopping and heading towards the point-of-sale (POS) terminals, thereby allowing the retail environment to properly staff the POS terminals in preparation for approaching customers.” (U.S. Patent No. 10,046,783)

Other Walmart patent applications published in August included:

  • a wristband that provides tactile signals (vibrations) to help order-pickers navigate to the right product bin, aisle or shelf. (U.S. Patent Application No. 20180238706)

  • a machine learning system with sensors and infrared cameras to determine whether food in grocery display cases is being kept at safe temperatures — and alert the staff if thresholds are exceeded. (U.S. Patent Application No. 20180224150)

  • an “automated opening device for plastic shopping bags” with a mechanical arm that grips the bag using static electricity, and a nozzle that sends a puff of compressed air to open the bag. (U.S. Patent Application No. 20180222616)

Other patents granted to Walmart in August included the following:

  • a system that, when a customer at checkout forgot to pick up an item, helps the customer find the item in a product catalog or frequent-purchase list, scans the product code, and then alerts a store representative to retrieve the item from the shelves and deliver it to the checkout counter. (U.S. Patent No. 10,062,066)

  • an inventory system that uses compressed air and sensors to get an accurate count of products on retail shelving. (U.S. Patent No. 10,049,341)

  • temperature-controlled compartments inside trucks for delivery of frozen or cold foods, with conveyor belts that move the box for the next customer on the delivery route towards the back door. (U.S. Patent No. 10,046,689)


Who’s doing what

Retailer Williams-Sonoma Inc. plans to launch a desktop and mobile app that uses augmented reality software to help customers visualize how the company’s home furnishings will look inside the home. The application is based on technology from Outward Inc., which Williams-Sonoma acquired for $112 million in 2017. — Sara Castellanos, WSJ: CIO Journal

7-Eleven Inc. expanded its rollout of the 7Now mobile order & delivery app to New York City, according to Gurmeet Singh, chief digital officer and CIO of 7-Eleven. The convenience store chain began testing the app in Dallas stores in December. Next up: service in Washington, D.C., followed by a national rollout. — Deena Amato-McCoy, Chain Store Age

Healthcare company Humana Inc. plans to establish a center for digital health and analytics, to be known as Humana Studio H, in Boston, “where it can take advantage of a deep local talent pool and partnerships,” the company announced. Humana expects to employ as many as 250 people at the center, led by Heather Cox, the company’s new chief digital health and analytics officer. (Cox was previously chief technology and digital officer at USAA, according to her LinkedIn profile.)

American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc. has developed a blockchain-based proof-of-payment system for verifying a credit-card payment, particularly for an apartment rental or hotel room. (U.S. Patent Application No. 20180197173)


Talent: jobs, appointments, careers

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is on a hiring spree, seeking software, data science and AI talent. The financial services company recently poached Apoorv Saxena, Google's head of product management for cloud-based artificial intelligence, according to CNBC. And it has over 8,000 open positions, according to an analysis of job listings data by Thinknum. “Looking at the titles on offer, the bank is making a major push for software developers and engineers, especially those who are well-versed in Java,” Thinknum reported. J.P. Morgan is also hiring talent for its forthcoming Roar data science platform, which will turn large data sets into a prediction engine for hedge-fund clients, according to Business Insider and eFinancialCareers. A trademark filing calls Roar a “data science as a service” platform for predictions.

Global health service company Cigna Corp. appointed Gina Papush as global chief data and analytics officer, a new role there. She will be based at the Bloomfield, Conn., HQ, and report to Chris Hocevar, Cigna’s president of strategy, segments and solutions. Papush previously served in the same role at QBE Insurance Group Ltd.

ARRIS International plc, in Suwanee, Ga., hired Karen Renner as CIO, reporting to the CEO. She replaces Phil Baldock, who left for a position as EVP, Global Operations, at Verifone Inc. Renner was previously named CIO of the Year by the Georgia CIO Leadership Association.

The publication Consumer Goods Technology recently announced the winners of its 2018 Women in Tech awards:

  • Excellence in IT Transformation: Neelu Sethi, SVP & CIO at Reddy Ice Holdings Inc. in Dallas.

  • Rising Star: Sally Stuart, senior manager of e-commerce strategy at Newell Brands Inc. in Hoboken, N.J.

Media tech veteran Phil Wiser has moved from Hearst Corp. to CBS Corp. as CTO, reporting to CBS COO Joe Ianniello and Jim Lanzone, who is CBS’ chief digital officer, according to Variety and a LinkedIn post. (Wiser replaces Doug Rousso, who left CBS after seven years in the CTO role to join MGM, Variety said.) Separately, CDO Lanzone has joined the board of directors of GoPro Inc.

Hunt Consolidated Inc. in Dallas hired Diane Schwarz as chief digital and information officer, according to executive search firm TillmanCarlson and her LinkedIn profile. She was previously CIO at Textron Inc. for five years.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) in Alexandria, Va., promoted Robert Foster from deputy CIO to CIO, effective Oct. 14. Prior to joining NCUA, he was CIO of the U.S. Department of the Navy.


{Brain food} Beware of ‘initiative overload’

Executives are usually clueless about the cumulative effect of numerous top-down initiatives on workers in the trenches. From the article, “Too Many Projects,” by Rose Hollister & Michael Watkins, in the September-October 2018 issue of Harvard Business Review:

Sometimes leaders are unaware of all the initiatives underway and their impact on the organization. In other cases organizational politics conspires to let initiatives continue long after they should have run their course. Either way, overload can result in costly productivity and quality problems and employee burnout.

Executive teams can be oblivious to the number and cumulative impact of the initiatives they have in progress. Many organizations lack mechanisms to identify, measure, and manage the demands that initiatives place on the managers and employees who are expected to do the work. In practice, it can be challenging to measure the load across an organization, because of initiative volume, company complexity and size, and insufficient tracking tools.

Most senior leaders have a line of sight into their own groups’ initiatives and priorities but a limited view of other groups’ activities. Because functions and units often set their priorities and launch initiatives in isolation, they may not understand the impact on neighboring functions and units.