Competing with online giants like Amazon is difficult even for a retail giant like Walmart. One way to get ahead is through technological innovation, and that includes adding robots to the workforce.
Walmart’s new retinue of robots will clean floors, scan shelves, and perform other basic tasks while staff members spend more face time helping customers. The aim is to minimize the time associates spend on “mundane and repetitive tasks” so they can work with consumers.
“Our associates immediately understood the opportunity for the new technology to free them up from focusing on tasks that are repeatable, predictable and manual,” explained John Crecelius, senior vice president of Central Operations for Walmart U.S., in a release. “It allows them time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers, which they tell us have always been the most exciting parts of working in retail.”
Walmart has already incorporated the technology in a select few locations, but it’s planning on expanding the program across the United States. It’s adding 1,500 new autonomous floor cleaners (Auto-Cs) to polish floors after associates prep the areas. Three hundred shelf scanners (Auto-Ss) will scan items to ensure availability, correct shelf locations, and make sure prices are accurate. Twelve hundred FAST Unloaders will scan and sort items that are unloaded from trucks. And 900 Pickup Towers will help with online orders by acting as giant vending machines for customers to retrieve their purchases.
According to Elizabeth Walker of Walmart Corporate Affairs, the shelf scanners and FAST Unloaders will share data, improving the process of putting products on shelves. The aim is to have associates available when customers need them while the store is stocked with items in their expected locations.
Dubbed “smart sidekicks” by Walker, the robots are helpful, convenient, and will make working at Walmart much more satisfying for its human employees while saving customers time and money.
Other businesses are also experimenting with similar robots. This writer encountered a robot at the local grocery store, wandering the produce and bakery areas for spills. It traveled slowly and made a beeping noise, alerting customers to its presence. Some grocery associates aren’t pleased with the new technology, fearing that its true purpose is to eliminate jobs.
Walmart made headlines earlier this year after announcing it was getting rid of greeters at 1,000 stores. These jobs are often held by disabled workers. The company responded to the backlash by noting that it was making an effort to find new positions for its employees with disabilities.
What do you think? Is Walmart trying to replace its workers with robots or is it creating an atmosphere in which humans and machines can work seamlessly side by side?