Walmart is Increasing its Use of Robots to Cut Labor Costs
Walmart is increasing its use of robot helpers in stores to perform menial tasks such as monitoring inventory, cleaning floors, and unloading trucks. As the retailer works to raise wages and implement new services such as online grocery delivery, its use of robots will help control labor costs.
Walmart said that machines that scan shelves for out-of-stock products would be introduced in at least 300 stores this year. 1,500 floor scrubbers will also be deployed, and the number of conveyor belts that scan and sort products immediately as they come off trucks will be more than doubled to 1,200. 900 16-foot-high towers that allow shoppers to pick up online orders will also be added.
The retailer is introducing these “smart assistants” in order to reduce the time that workers spend on tasks that are “repeatable, predictable, and manual,” thus allowing them to spend more time on customer service tasks. The robots will also limit worker turnover by removing the need to have workers unloading trucks overnight.
Walmart said that the addition of just one machine can cut a few hours per day of work previously done by a person - a company spokesman said last year that store workers spend two to three hours a day driving a floor scrubber through a store - or allow the retailer to allocate fewer people to complete tasks. The addition of automatic conveyor belts will cut the number of workers needed to unload trucks from eight to four.
Labor advocates are concerned that using automation will cause layoffs in the future. Walmart expects, however, to assign workers to newly created roles like choosing customers’ grocery pickup and delivery orders; the company has recently hired about 40,000 workers to pick groceries from shelves to fulfill online orders. Walmart US CFO Michael Dastugue said last month that “as we evolve, there are certain activities, certain jobs that’ll go away,” but that the addition of technology will force employees to be more flexible and “be able to handle change.”