It’s common for companies to use robots to maintain warehouse stock. But what about using robots to maintain in-store stock? Walmart is experimenting with this concept by bringing scanning robots to over 50 US locations to help stock shelves.
On Oct. 26, 2017, Walmart posted a video explaining the initiative. Automation is not intended to replace human employees, but rather free them for more meaningful tasks. Robots will scan shelves for out-of-stock items, incorrect prices and wrong or missing labels. These predictable and repetitive tasks take a lot of time when done by hand. Using bots will speed up shelf audits exponentially. They have the ability to scan aisles three times as fast as human employees. Walmart asserts that if robots help stock shelves, then employees can give their full attention to shoppers’ needs.
Robots will sit in charging stations until an employee gives an order.
They stand around two feet tall and are equipped with lights and sensors. Walmart will use the data from these shelf scans to improve efficiency in stores nationwide. The company experimented with in-store robots in California, Pennsylvania and Arkansas stores for the past three years. If the newest bot performs well, it could spread to stores in all 50 states. As of now, bots are set to arrive in Texas by the end of January 2018.
The robots won’t replace human employees directly, but some still speculate about the practice of automation. The Verge asserts that Walmart will higher fewer employees down the line as a result of this change. Others believe this is another tactic to compete with Amazon’s recent expansion. Walmart currently employs 2.3 million people at 12,000 locations.