OPERATIONS

Discount giant uses robots to keep store shelves full

BY 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.

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OPERATIONS

Tight labor market making for holiday staffing crunch

BY Marianne Wilson

The nation’s low unemployment rate is having an impact on employers’ seasonal hiring. The nation’s low unemployment rate is having an impact on employers’ seasonal hiring.

Faced with an unemployment rate of 4.2%, the lowest in more than a decade, a majority (72%) of employers are taking steps to accommodate today’s tight labor market, according to a survey from Snagajob, a leading marketplace for hourly jobs. Employers are hiring seasonal workers later this year than last, offering more hours to current employees and retaining seasonal workers after the holidays to address staffing crunch. Some are even offering health benefits to seasonal hires.

The report found that employers are taking 14% longer to secure seasonal staff than they did in 2016. As a result, employers are finding new ways to bridge the gap: 35% plan to offer current employees more hours to cover open shifts, a third of hiring managers began recruiting for seasonal positions as early as September, and 25% are offering health insurance benefits to seasonal employees.

“In order to attract and retain top talent, employers need to give workers want they want most — hours, schedule flexibility and stability,” said Snagajob CEO Peter Harrison. “With most hourly job seekers able to secure a job in less than a week, it’s clearly a job seeker’s market, and employers must pay close attention to this group’s preferences if they want to staff up adequately for the holidays.”

Hiring managers are getting creative — 51% of this year’s seasonal hires will be rehires from last season, and 93% of employers plan to retain seasonal workers after the holidays are over. Additionally, 91% of hiring managers across all industries report they will pay seasonal employees more than the federal minimum wage this year.

Additional findings from Snagajob’s holiday hiring and State of the Hourly Worker surveys include:

• The majority of employers (89%) plan on filling seasonal positions by November, which remains steady year over year. However, given the tight labor market, they recognize it will take longer to fill positions this year. In fact, only 43% expect to have positions filled by October, down from 55% last year.

• Likely in response to workers’ demand for more hours, employers offering more than 20 hours a week increased almost 5% year over year.

• Seventy-five of hourly workers use mobile devices to search and apply for positions, up from 25% in 2012. This year, for the first time, job applications from mobile devices exceeded those from desktops and laptops.

• As in past years, retailers account for the majority of holiday hiring, including a fast growing range of fulfillment center jobs; Snagajob found that hourly workers are two times more likely to search for retail jobs than other industries.

For its holiday hiring report, Snagajob surveyed 1,000 employers from the nation’s retail, restaurant and hospitality industries.

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OPERATIONS

UPS shipping rates to jump

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

UPS is preparing to impose another shipping rate increase.

Starting Dec. 24, the fees for UPS ground, UPS air and international services, as well as UPS air freight rates within and between the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, will rise by an average of 4.9%.

These increases will “support ongoing expansion and capabilities enhancements.” They will also support additional investments the company is making “in the speed, scope and coverage of our transportation network in order to support our customers’ growth and service needs,” according to UPS.

The move rivals a similar announcement from FedEx. In September, the carrier revealed it plans to impose new shipping fees starting on January 1, 2018. All subsidiaries, FedEx Express, FedEx Ground and FedEx Freight, will increase their shipping fees by an average of 4.9%. The company is also imparting additional surcharges across other services.

UPS’ rate increase comes on the heels of its plan to hike prices on holiday deliveries. In June, the carrier revealed that for the first time, it would add a surcharge for orders delivered to homes during peak holiday times.

The holiday price increases include a 27 cent surcharge per package on UPS’ ground service from Nov. 19 to Dec. 2, and from Dec. 17 and Dec. 23. Residential packages, large packages and those exceeding system weight limits, would face surcharges of up to 97 cents for two-day air services to residential addresses from Dec. 17-23.

Both increases could boost the buy-online-pickup-in-stores (BOPIS) strategy being deployed by more store-based retailers.

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