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How Walmart will soon have robots working the aisles

Walmart is the next in line to bring technological advances to the fore, this time with shelf-scanning robots in the retail industry

Robots are no longer just a thing of science fiction

A trial has been run in a limited number of Walmart outlets in the California and Arkansas areas, with the successful findings thus far leading the retail corporation to anticipate an expansion of the trial by January 2018 to 50 American stores.

At around two-feet tall, these miniature mechanised towers on wheels are more adept than you may initially imagine. The cameras integrated into the robots enable them to scan the shelves and issue alerts to staff regarding any issues they spot.

They are designed to search out problems such as missing labels, incorrect prices, and products that are in the wrong place or out of stock.

With less time being taken up by such tasks, staff should have more availability when it comes to the shop floor and providing assistance, putting customers back at the heart of the operation.

The surprising benefits of the bots

According to Walmart’s CTO, Jeremy King, robotic scanning is 50% more efficient and accurate than human staff undertaking the same checks.

Such automation could pave the way for a future in which store staff are less constrained by tasks involving hunting out stock errors, shortages and labelling mishaps. The result? A quicker process that is more efficient, with happier customers and staff more readily available to provide first-hand service.

Walmart is not alone in taking a step towards automation; for example, Schnucks Markets is trialling robots three times each day to relay information on out-of-stock products to its staff.

Automation is something that has been feared almost as much as it has been revered. Talk of automation brings to mind the concern of robots taking over industries, with some economists predicting that humans will be put out of jobs as a result; however, redundancies and reduced human recruitment does not necessarily have to be the forecast for the future.

Walmart’s trial suggests that the role of the auto bot could instead benefit staff. Automated auditing removes human error from repeat behaviour, during which mistakes are likely to be made and issues likely to be missed.

In turn, this would reduce customer complaints of such errors, increase turnover, improve customer service, and boost staff satisfaction at the same time by lessening tasks that many report to dislike.

With the success Walmart is reporting, it is perhaps only a matter of time before this expands and begins a new trend whereby we will see robots roaming supermarket aisles on a regular basis.

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