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How Walmart’s Sam’s Club Is Following Amazon Into Cashierless Stores

Walmart’s retail warehouse club, Sam’s Club, is moving ahead with its tests of new automated-store technology. Having said back in June that its new Dallas location would provide a “more digital experience,” Sam’s Club has put flesh on those bones.

Sam’s Club Now, as the facility will be called, will be a “technology lab that doubles as a live, retail club,” the outfit said Monday. The idea is to try out new technologies—largely based on the company’s Scan & Go smartphone app—at the location before rolling them out nationally.

The Scan & Go app lets people scan the items they put in their cart, and pay for them via their phone. The app is already usable in all Sam’s Club locations, but in the new facility it will be the basis for the whole shopping experience.

Shoppers will be able to use voice search to call up a map of the store, showing them where items are. The app will use machine learning to write people’s shopping lists for them—and at some point this will combine with the mapping feature to lay out people’s ideal routes through the store.

There are also augmented reality features, so shoppers can hold up their phones in front of a product and see information about features and sourcing.

The new facility is about a quarter of the size of an average Sam’s Club outlet, and the operation is looking to test out new ways to run an outlet, not just new ways for people to shop.

“We’ll test electronic shelf labels that will instantly update prices, removing the need to print and replace new item price signs,” said Sam’s Club CEO Jamie Iannone. “And down the road, we’ll use the more than 700 cameras in the club to help us manage inventory in new ways and optimize the layout to make shopping effortless.”

A lot is changing in the world of retail technology these days, both on the logistics and customer-facing sides. Amazon (AMZN) has grabbed many headlines with its Amazon Go outlet, a convenience store where customers can walk in, grab they want and walk out, being automatically charged as they go.

Walmart signed a deal with Microsoft in July to use the cloud provider’s services across its business lines, in part to take on the common enemy that is Amazon. However, at the time Walmart (WMT) said it was working on its own cashierless checkout system technology, rather than adopting something from Microsoft (MSFT).

And where are human employees in this brave new retail world? Sam’s Club said in its Monday statement that it was creating a new role called “Member Host,” which sounds rather Westworld but essentially means a “concierge” who will presumably help customers wrap their heads around the new systems.

“We’ve known for a long time our associates make the difference, and that won’t change just because shopping preferences evolve,” said Iannone.