Walmart Bringing Robot ‘Assistants’ To Stores

Customers enter a Wal-Mart store on February 20, 2014 in San Lorenzo, California.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Walmart is bringing thousands of robots to its stores across America.

The retail giant will add almost 4,000 “smart assistants” to stores so its employees do not have to spend time “on the more mundane and repetitive tasks” like cleaning floors and checking inventory on shelves. In turn, Walmart staff will have more time to help customers, according to a Walmart press release.

In the release, the company said that it will add 1,500 Auto-C robots that will clean floors. Employees typically spend approximately two hours a day driving a scrubbing machine to clean floors, Walmart said. The new technology frees them up to do other jobs.

The company will add about 300 Auto-S robots that will scan products on shelves to “help ensure availability, correct shelf location, and price accuracy.” This robot keeps tabs on what is in stock and what needs to be ordered as well as catching mislabeled items or products that have the wrong price. It would take dozens of employees several days to do what the Auto-S can do in less than an hour, said John Crecelius, senior vice president of central operations for Walmart in the U.S.

The company will also implement 900 Pickup Towers, which is like a “giant vending machine” for customers who order items online from Walmart.com. Customers don’t have to interact with another person if they don’t want to, and they don’t have to pay shipping costs. Associates load customer orders into the tower, which sends the customer an email that their order is ready. Customers can then pick up their order at their convenience.

In addition, Walmart will add 1,200 FAST Unloaders, which will automatically scan and sort items unloaded from trucks.

The company said the response from associates has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Crecelius said in the statement that employees understood that the robots could do tedious and repetitive tasks.

“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.”

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The company is also hoping that by giving the unpleasant jobs to robots, it can keep its employees happy and ultimately reduce turnover.

Walmart has experimented with automation before, and like most brick-and-mortar companies, is looking to compete with online retailers. The company said that it began testing the automatic assistants in 2018, and they were well-received by both customers and employees. It added that while the “smart assistants” are convenient, they are helping employees have more satisfying jobs in the changing retail landscape.