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Walmart doubles on robot writers. Here's why



The world's largest retailer announced on Tuesday that it adds thousands of new robots to its stores. By next February, it expects to have autonomous floor scrubs in 1,860 of its more than 4,700 US stores. Walmart will also have robots that scan shelf storage at 350 stores. And there will be bots at 1,700 stores that automatically scan boxes as they come from trucks and sort them by department on conveyor belt.

Walmart says these "smart assistants" will reduce the amount of time workers spend on "repeatable, predictable and manual" tasks in the stores and allow them to switch to selling goods to customers and other customer services.

"The overall trend we see is that automation of specific tasks gives employees more time to do the work they find fulfilling and interacting with our customers," says CEO Doug McMillon last year of the new technology in the stores.

The retailer believes getting bots will boost your sales and make your stores more efficient. Walmart also says that bots limit employee turnover, because it's hard to consistently find workers loading trucks and keeping stores overnight.

Walmart has tested this technology in hundreds of stores over the past year. The expansion plan means that innovations have been effective for Walmart so far.

Big stores and new features

McMillon often tells Walmart's [1
9659008] ( WMT )
large store network as its biggest advantage over rivals, including Amazon ( AMZN ) . Walmart is within 10 miles of 90% of the American population.
But the 178,000 square meters of supercentres are expensive to operate, especially as more buyers buy online. Walmart invested more than $ 2 billion last year to rebuild stores across the country and equip them to handle their customers' online store purchases. For example, Walmart said on Tuesday that it would bring 16-foot tall pickup towers – automated vending machines that quickly retrieve customer's online orders – to 900 new stores this year.
  The retail antidote for the retail trade: Buy online, pick up at the store

Walmart adds robots to help with it to handle rising costs, including for shop work. Unemployment is at its lowest level for decades, and Walmart and other retailers have increased wages and benefits to attract and retain workers.
"There is a shortage of retail labor," said Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University. "It won't be easy for Walmart to add work to perform these functions. So a high level of automation is needed."
Other retailers and grocery chains bring on robots in their stores to reduce costs and help workers as well. Giant Food Stores places "Marty", a tall, gray robot with googly eyes, in all of its 172 food stores.

Robot printers and shelf scanners

Walmart's 920-pound self-propelled floor scrubber, called "Auto-C", uses automatic technology to navigate custom routes around stores and trickle the floors. The machine relies on sensors to scan people and times. Walmart tested it at 360 stores before deciding to roll it out to another 1500 locations.

"It relieves associates with a job that is honestly unpopular," Mark Ibbotson, head of Walmart's US operations and real estate, said last year.

Walmart has also attempted 50 stores with "Auto-S", a shelf-scanning robot. The boat moves around the aisles and identifies which items are low or out of stock and ensures that the prices and product labels are accurate. This information is important to help Walmart push out sales. This boat will soon be in 300 more stores.
  Walmart's shelf scanning robot moves around the aisles and identifies which objects are low or excluded.

And Walmart experimented with a fine in around 500 stores that relieve boxes from trucks and automatically scan and sort the items by department. Walmart says that the loser saves time and has reduced employee turnover in the labor-intensive areas in the store. So it brings it to 1,200 new stores.

"We see an increase in turnover and reductions in turnover in what would have been a very difficult job to fill," said CEO McMillon last year.

Walmart says all three robots will soon share data with each other to bring the products to the shelves faster and ensure that the hallways are clean and fully equipped.

The future of retailing

Although Walmart claims that the robot allows workers to engage more with customers, workers are concerned that automation of manual tasks will trigger retail dismissals.

Walmart has said it will reduce the hours it allocates to emptying cans and mopping floors. That will cause someone to let go of time, Walmart said.

"As we evolve, there are certain activities, some jobs that are going to go away," said US Treasury Secretary Michael Dastugue at an analyst conference last month.

But Walmart expects to use some of the hours it saves due to robots to assign workers to newly created roles, such as choosing customer's grocery purchases and delivery orders.

Dastugue said the technology will force employees to be flexible and "able to handle change."

"We may need them to do them an activity in the morning and another afternoon activity," he said.


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