Walmart on Tuesday announced it would be adding more robots to its stores: 1,500 additional "Auto-C" robots, which are autonomous floor cleaners; 300 "Auto-S" robots, which scan shelves to ensure availability, accurate location and correct pricing; 1,200 "FAST Unloaders," which automatically scan and sort items from trucks; and 900 "Pickup Towers," where consumers can pick up purchases ordered online.
The expansion of Walmart's robotic fleet is in an effort to give associates more time to serve customers face-to-face, according to a company press release. "The idea is that by leaning into the future, associates will be able to have more satisfying jobs as retail continues to change," the company said.
Walmart used 2018 to pilot these technologies less widely: In December, Walmart brought 78 floor-scrubbing robots into its stores with original plans to have 360 in total, and this time last year, Walmart expanded its Pickup Towers to 700 stores.
Walmart's latest announcement to add nearly 4,000 robots into stores further adds to the retailer's growing emphasis on technology.
Throughout 2018, the retailer piloted autonomous floor scrubbers, shelf-scanning robots, FAST Unloaders and pickup towers in several stores. This comes in addition to Walmart's online grocery pickup bot, Alphabot, in collaboration with startup Alert Innovation, as well as mobile express Scan & Go and, up until January of this year, grocery delivery through Google Express.
And despite a 2013 Oxford University study estimating that there's a 92% probability that a number of retail salespeople will be displaced by technology by 2023, a Walmart spokesperson previously told Retail Dive this isn't a concern the retailer has.
Walmart has added technology such as VR associate training and armed associates with an app to help customers order and pay for items on the retailer's website, both moves the retailer said, allow associates to better serve customers.
Other retailers have added similar technologies: Amazon installed pickup lockers in Whole Foods, apartment buildings, college campuses and has plans to include a number at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival later this month. The e-commerce giant also rolled out Scout, an automated delivery robot and secured a patent for package pickup locations on buses. And Ahold Delhaize-owned Giant, Martin's and Stop & Shop added "Marty," an automated shelf-scanning robot to its workforce earlier this year.
While it remains unclear whether robots will replace a significant number of human jobs, it appears the implementation of the technology isn't slowing down.