By Nnamdi Odumody
Walmart will deploy thousands of robots to its stores. By 2020, it will have 920 autonomous floors scrubbers in 1860 of its more than 4700 stores. It will also have robots that scan shelf inventory in 350 stores, and bots at 1700 stores that can automatically scan boxes as they come off delivery bucks and sort them by department onto conveyor belts.
According to Walmart, these smart assistants will reduce the amount of time workers spend on repeatable, predictable and manual tasks in stores, and allow them switch to selling merchandise to shoppers and other customer service roles.
CEO Doug McMillon said that automating certain tasks will give associates more time to do work they find fulfilling and to interact with their customers. He believes that deploying robots will increase sales and make stores more efficient in operations because while robots can unload trucks and keep up stores overnight, it will prove difficult with humans.
Walmart has been testing out this technology in hundreds of its stores over the past year. Running operations in its 178,000 square foot supercenters are expensive as more shoppers prefer ecommerce. It invested more than $2billion in 2018 to remodel stores across the country and equip them to handle online purchases for in store pickup.
Its strategic redesign has seen it leverage emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain to deliver the best customer experience better than its physical competitors. Today, the race is between Walmart and Target in the physical retail space, and Walmart and Amazon in the digital retailing space.
Africa’s leading retail brands Shoprite and Spar should learn from Walmart and invest in robotics to deliver smart services for its customers across the continent. Besides saving labour costs, they can improve efficiency and build stores for the smart economy which will improve margins.