Discount giant uses robots to keep store shelves full
Deena M. Amato-McCoy
Walmart has a new way to fight out-of-stocks.
The discount giant is using a shelf-scanning robot to detect out-of-stock items, incorrect prices and wrong or missing labels. The initiative is an effort to automate tasks that are repeatable, predictable and manual for its associates, Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing said in the retailer’s blog, Walmart Today.
Using data and vision technology, the wheeled robot roams store aisles ready to simplify routine, but time-consuming tasks. On-hand robots are making it easier for personal shoppers to fulfill online orders, as well as freeing up associates to serve in-store shoppers, according to a video on the blog.
“When it comes to technology, we are pushing the boundaries through robotics and artificial intelligence [AI],” Walmart said in the video.
In a Reuters report, Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, said, “The robots are 50% more productive than their human counterparts, and can scan shelves significantly more accurately and three times faster.”
He added that the robots would not replace workers or impact employee headcount.
Walmart began testing the technology in a small number of stores in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and California. Based on positive results, the retailer is now expanding the robots to an additional 50 locations.
“This combination of people and technology is helping make our stores more convenient and easier to shop, ensuring that products are available when our customers want them,” Rushing said. “It’s just another example of how we’re using technology to save our associates and customers time.”
The discounter plans to rely on feedback from associates and customers to decide “how and where we use this technology in the future,” he added.
This is not Walmart’s first try at adding automated, robotic solutions. The discounter continues to expand its fleet of “Pickup Towers,” massive orange vending machines where shoppers can retrieve their online orders in less than a minute.
The discounter was also recently granted a patent that would allow the chain to use drones to shuttle merchandise between departments and dedicated delivery locations within its stores. Walmart has not confirmed a test for this solution.