Following successful pilot tests in a limited number of stores, the world’s largest retail chain said Tuesday it plans to deploy robotic devices nationwide. With robots taking on repetitive, manual tasks, Walmart said store associates will have more time to focus on assisting shoppers and other value-added efforts.
Walmart built some of the robots in-house, while others were sourced through third-party suppliers. The chain has made a big push in recent years to innovate with new technologies in order to gain an advantage on rival Amazon, which has been establishing more of a physical presence beyond its pure-play roots.
Automated kiosks, known as pick-up towers, have become a common fixture in some Walmart stores, but 900 new locations will be getting one of the self-service devices that facilitate the in-store pick-up of orders placed through e-commerce.
One bot, dubbed the Auto-C, is able to assume janitorial floor-cleaning duties, and 1,500 of these devices will soon be polishing Walmart store floors after an associate preps both the machine and the area to be cleaned.
Three hundred more shelf scanning robots will keep an eye on product presentations to ensure items are where they’re supposed to be, available for purchase and listed for the correct price.
Walmart’s FAST unloaders accelerate the process of getting shipments off a delivery truck and onto store shelves, sorting items according to designated priority levels and their associated department. This system syncs with the pick-up towers to ensure click-and-collect orders are set for retrieval within the stipulated timeframe.
A Walmart spokesperson said associates are being trained to operate the new machinery via virtual reality and brief video programming. Both store management and store associates will be briefed on how to work the robots, though the daily operation will fall to the latter.
“The bots will save time and provide a true level of efficiency for the associate and they will provide the products that the customers expect to find when they come into our stores,” the spokesperson said.
Last month, news broke that Walmart CTO Jeremy King was set to depart, calling into question whether the retailer will be able to sustain its tech-driven transformation.