Published on May 12th, 2020 | by Emergent Enterprise0
How Walmart Uses AI to Enable Two-hour Express Delivery
In the span of just a few months it has become a commonplace occurrence for groceries to be delivered to front porches and apartment doors everywhere. Retailers continue to make it easier and faster with the help of artificial intelligence as can be seen in this article by Kyle Wiggers at VentureBeat. The big players like Amazon and Walmart can deliver same day and, as this article shows, within two hours. This is just one example of how AI is transforming everyday tasks. People are willing to tolerate the occasional wrong item and the extra charge to get purchases dropped at the doorstep.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / QualityHD
Last month, Walmart launched Express Delivery, a service that allows customers to receive orders in two hours or less. Pilot tests began across 100 U.S. stores on April 16, and Walmart plans to expand Express Delivery to nearly 1,000 stores tomorrow and about 2,000 later this month.
Express Delivery, which offers more than 160,000 items across Walmart’s inventory, wasn’t motivated strictly by the pandemic. But Walmart says the timing “pushed forward” development as the retailer experienced a surge in delivery demand correlated with shelter-in-place orders. Its engineering teams completed a minimum viable product and deployed it to a store in Phoenix, Arizona within two weeks, after which it was brought to 100 stores. As tests in those stores began, the teams behind Express Delivery worked on a scalable successor, optimizing it in real time for larger store deployments.
Walmart spoke with VentureBeat about the AI systems underlying Express Delivery, which range from a logistics algorithm that accounts for conditions to an alerting platform that prioritizes orders for a network of over 74,000 personal shoppers. While some systems were in place prior to Express Delivery’s development, others had to be architected from scratch.
Adding to the cart
As with any Walmart order, the Express Delivery experience begins with adding items to a cart. Via Walmart’s website or its mobile app, customers choose what they’d like to order and finalize their basket before moving to the checkout phase, where they choose the day and time they’d like their order delivered.
Behind the scenes, an AI system — which includes a “resource optimization and vehicle routing” — determines whether customers are eligible for Express Delivery, depending on a range of real-time factors. As it optimizes routes and assigns delivery trips for vehicles to ensure customers receive their orders at the proper time, the system considers:
- The time slot
- The number of orders assigned to that time slot
- The vehicles and vehicle types available
- The distance of routes between stores and the delivery address
- Likely delays as a result of heavy precipitation, like sleet, snow, or hail
Estimated time to arrival is derived from all of these variables and serves as one of the inputs for a second AI system, a capacity and slot management system that determines which time slots and delivery slots are free. It principally looks at the number of items in an order and available labor — i.e., the number of orders and associates at any particular store on a given day and time.