Walmart announced that it wants to deploy thousands of more robots to its stores and it expects to have autonomous floor scrubbers in 1,860 of its more than 4,700 US stores by next year. The stores will also have robots that scan shelf inventory at 350 stores, as well as robots that automatically scan boxes as they come off delivery trucks and sort them by department onto conveyor belts in 1,700 stores.
By having robots take up this type of assignments, Walmart wants its employees to switch to helping out customers by selling merchandise and other customer service roles. CEO Doug McMillon stated:
“The overall trend we’re seeing is that automating certain tasks gives associates more time to do work they find fulfilling and to interact with out customers.”
This expansion plan comes after Walmart has been testing out robots in hundreds of its stores over the past year and it seems the innovations were effective since they want to add more bots. Plus, it also helps limit work turnover because it’s hard to consistently find workers to unload trucks and keep up stores overnight.
The cleaning bots are not the only automated improvement Walmart wants to bring to their business, they also want to invest more in online selling. That is after already investing more than $2 billion last year to remodel its stores and enable them to handle online purchases for in-store pickup. Now it wants to bring 16-foot-tall pickup towers to 900 new stores this year, which are basically automated vending machines that are able to quickly fetch customers’ online orders.
Another addition would be the Auto-S – that has already been tested in 50 stores – which is a shelf-scanning robot that travels around aisles and identifies which items are low or out of stock as well as make sure that prices and product labels are accurate. This robot will soon be deployed in 300 more stores.
Even though Walmart states that the robots will allow workers to help customers more, labor advocates say that automation of manual tasks will trigger future layoffs in retail. Walmart maintains that this will only lead to change of employee hours and attributions not to layoffs, US CFO Michael Dastugue said “We may need them to do one activity in the morning and a different activity in the afternoon.”