Walmart looks to take on Amazon in the IoT

Walmart
A Walmart patent application describes how drones could be used to retrieve merchandise from storage areas. (Walmart)

Walmart has long been active in the RFID space, but now comes evidence that it’s increasingly taking on the internet of things (IoT) with a patent application unearthed by CB Insights.

The data provider says the system outlined in the application is reminiscent of the Amazon Dash, the connected buttons offered by Amazon that let users quickly reorder products. Walmart’s system would require even less effort than Amazon’s, integrating IoT into the products themselves for automatic reordering with no user input at all.

The patent application, filed in October, described adding IoT tags to products based on Bluetooth, radio frequency, infrared, NFC or other technology. The tag would monitor product usage and automatically order refills or replacements when needed. The tags could also track expiration dates and product recalls, CB Insights said.  

“Along with driving purchases, this IoT system could also gather valuable consumer data for Walmart,” CB said in a blog post. “The patent mentions that these tags could track how frequently the product is used, at what times of day, and where it’s kept in the house. This data could help develop personalized advertising, predictive demand management, and more detailed customer profiles for market segmentation, the patent explains.”

Walmart also could use data from the tags to expand cross-selling, so if a shopper wears out his or her pair of sneakers more quickly than the average consumer, it could recommend a more premium pair for the next purchase, or it could classify the shopper as a frequent exerciser and focus personalized promotions on other workout gear.

CB, which has analyzed more than 800 Walmart published patents and applications over the past few years, notes that the company has filed several other patents that could help to expand its grocery business. Some other patent filings are related to drones and augmented reality.

No stranger to technology, Walmart has applied for a number of drone patents, including a way to use drones inside stores to ferry around products or to monitor fresh produce.

Last month, the company was granted a patent for a system whereby drones would shuttle products between different departments inside its stores, freeing customers from having to walk across its huge emporiums to find what they want and from having to wait while employees return from far-away back storage areas.