Walmart Inc.’s Canadian stores are now equipping some of their employees with a ring-mounted scanner that the company says helps them fill online grocery orders faster.
More than 1,500 rings have arrived at more than 130 stores, Walmart Canada said in a corporate blog post. The rings are “one of the first pieces of wearable technology to be rolled out by Walmart Canada,” the company said.
According to the company, the scanners make it easier and more comfortable for store employees to “pick” items for orders, and their lightweight, intuitive design keeps both hands free for picking.
Wearable technology, also known as wearables, has become very popular as devices such as smart watches, fitness trackers, and medical alert monitors.
Hands-free gadgets send and receive data over the Internet. They can be worn as accessories, incorporated into clothing, and implanted or even tattooed onto the skin.
But they are evolving from consumer accessories to more specialized and practical uses in many industries, including retail.
A Walmart Canada spokesperson said the ergonomic ring scanners have a button that workers press with their thumb to scan an item while they select.
“As an example,” he said, “with larger objects, you can now use both hands, creating a faster and easier process compared to traditionally used handheld devices.”
The company hopes to bring the technology to all of Walmart Canada’s 408 stores, the spokesperson said.
Olivia Lynch, omni store manager of the future at Walmart Canada, said her team “takes pride in piloting exciting and emerging technologies and finding ways to incorporate them into our business.”
“Ring scanners are just one example of the many ways we seek to integrate wearable technology into our processes at Walmart,” Lynch said.
Heather Mills, senior program manager for online grocery at Walmart Canada, called equipping her omnichannel employees with ring scanners a “game changer,” especially in online grocery shopping.
In the blog post, Walmart Canada hinted at more innovations to come.
“As we continue to invest in our omnichannel business at Walmart, wearable technology like ring scanners are just the beginning,” the company said.
Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for information about the use of wearables in its U.S. division.
Carol Spieckerman, retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, said Walmart Canada’s adoption of wearable devices in Canada indicates that more of this technology is to come.
“A wave of new technologies is about to hit retail, which will directly impact the customer experience,” Spieckerman said. “Gadgets that will be used by retailers to improve operational efficiency are less discussed.”
Spieckerman said automation has raised concerns about its potential to replace workers. But in reality, she said, high technology will lead to “high touch.”
“People will be armed with more sophisticated technology tools that will allow them to achieve greater efficiency without resorting to large-scale automation,” she said.
But as with other industrial automation, using efficient wearables won’t be without controversy, Spieckerman said.
“Amazon is going after employee productivity monitoring to get machine-like results,” she said. “This mindset could easily take hold of more retailers as new capabilities are released.”
A Deloitte report on wearable devices in retail indicates that the greatest potential use of technology is in both improving the customer experience and streamlining internal operations.
Wearable devices can make retail operations more efficient and profitable by creating seamless communication between store employees; help planners organize store space to make it easier for customers to navigate; and, like Walmart Canada’s ring scanners, give workers hands-free access to information in assigned tasks.
PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report that wearable technology will “soon be an integral part of nearly every retail experience.”
For retailers, the company said, wearable devices will provide more detailed customer information, give shoppers a more personalized experience and drive sales by delivering targeted information to consumers.
The global wearable technology market was valued at $40.65 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 13.8% through 2028.