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MIT Technology Review

Walmart wants us to believe it’s turning into a tech company

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Its latest partnerships and new services show the retailer’s continued evolution toward becoming a tech-focused business.

The latest ventures: Earlier this week, Microsoft and Walmart announced a cloud computing partnership—that is, a collaboration between Amazon’s biggest retail and cloud competitors. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the Wall Street Journal that the shared rivalry is “is absolutely core” to this deal. Then yesterday The Information reported Walmart is planning to launch a video streaming platform that could be priced below what Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Video service charge.

Walmart’s tech makeover: The retail giant is not shying away from introducing innovations into its aisles and e-commerce presence. For example ...

     —  Walmart has partnered with Google to use AI to bolster online shopping.
     —  Last year, shelf-scanning robots began patrolling aisles in the company’s stores. They have now traveled over 2,000 miles.
     —  VR is being used for employee training and tested for digital shopping.
     —  Jetblack, a same-day delivery service, launched in June. There are plans to connect that to a voice ordering interface.

The business impact: It’s hard to say yet how all these efforts have affected Walmart’s revenue. The company did see a big jump in e-commerce growth in the first quarter of 2018, with online sales up 33 percent, but that was largely driven by its investments in website redesign and online grocery sales.

The takeaway: The company’s initiatives are at least one part genuine attempt to challenge Amazon’s innovations and one part PR push to seem technologically savvy and innovative. Tech companies’ willingness to partner with Walmart gives some credence to the effort, but where else would they turn? If companies like Microsoft and Google want to challenge Amazon’s e-commerce dominance in the US, latching onto Walmart may be their best bet.