Walmart will deploy Bossa Nova shelf-scanning robots in an additional 650 stores by the end of this summer, according to Bloomberg, turning a job that previously took two weeks into a twice-daily inspection. It’s one way Walmart CEO Doug McMillon is cutting costs and improving store performance.
Equipped with 15 cameras, Bossa Nova’s shelf-scanning Robot can travel between shelves and alert store associates when an item is out of stock. According to a report by consulting firm McKinsey last May, about half of all jobs in commercial retail activities could be automated using existing technology.
1. Six feet tall with 15 “eyes”
Shelf scanning equipment is mainly used to reduce shelf shortages. Retailers are known to lose nearly a trillion dollars a year as a result of this problem.
Walmart Inc. is currently expanding their Robot fleet. The world’s largest retailer will add shelf-scanning robots to more than 650 additional stores by the end of this summer. By then, they’ll have 1,000 stores using shelf-scanning robots.
Walmart uses a shelf-scanning Robot called Bossa Nova, which is about six feet tall. Equipped with 15 cameras, each robot can traverse the aisles between shelves and send alerts to the handheld devices of store employees when it detects a shortage of merchandise. Bossa Nova was designed by San Francisco-based Bossa Nova, a company focused on robotics.
Walmart’s increasingly automated workforce also includes robots that can scrub floors, load and unload trucks, and collect online orders. The use of these robots is just one way Walmart CEO Doug McMillon is working to reduce costs and improve store performance. At the same time, this will also allow Walmart to highlight its technological innovation strength in the competition with Amazon and win more market recognition.
Walmart says Bossa Nova can turn a huge task that used to take two weeks into a routine inspection twice a day. “The use of robots has accelerated the entire production cycle,” John Crecelius, Walmart’s senior president of store innovation, said in an interview.
2. Walmart’s 4,750 U.S. stores will gradually “automate”
In 2016, the first Bossa Nova robot was used in a Walmart store in suburban Pennsylvania. At the time, customers were both curious and intimidated by it. Some people thought it was an anti-theft device in the mall, some people tried to talk to the robot, and some children would hug it. And now Bossa Nova can be seen in many stores. Walmart’s competitors are also using robots in some chain stores, such as Giant Eagle, Schnucks and Stop & Shop.
NCR Corporation has provided Walmart with cash registers and self-checkout equipment for many years, and this time they will continue to install and maintain the Bossa Nova machines. The vast majority of Walmart’s 4,750 U.S. stores will have robots in the near future, said David Wilkinson, NCR’s senior vice president and general manager of retail.
But in addition to Bossa Nova, Walmart also buys robots from other manufacturers, and it has already tested a shelf-scanning robot made by Badger Technologies in a store in Kentucky. Meanwhile, Bossa Nova also has some collaborations with Walmart competitor Albertsons Cos.
3. Half of retail jobs may be replaced by machines
Walmart CEO Crecelius didn’t say how many of the bots helped reduce out-of-stock items, other than to say the metric has improved, saying the robots have traveled 50,000 miles in stores, scanning 1 million aisles and nearly 500 million items.
Simbe Robotics, also a robot manufacturing company, says their robots can cut the number of out-of-stock items in half, while also reducing labor costs.
However, this potential risk of displacement has many retail practitioners terrified. On message boards frequented by shelf stockers and other employees, the bots are often referred to as “the job stealers,” along with swearing words. Their concerns are not unfounded. According to a McKinsey & Company report last May, about half of all jobs in commercial retail activities could be automated using existing technology.
Instead of being laid off, Walmart said the use of robots would allow its employees to take on more advanced jobs. But at present, the growth of the robot team is very obvious and rapid, and these robots are getting smarter and smarter. The latest model of Bossa Nova is equipped with additional cameras that scan the shelves of fresh produce below.
At the same time, these new robots are smaller and will not hinder shoppers. Sarjoun Skaff, co-founder and CEO of Bossa Nova, said: “We are going to give it our all.”
Conclusion: Retail automation has become a major trend
Walmart’s new 650 robot-inspecting stores this time is just part of the “automation” of their stores. The maturity of technology and the reduction of costs have allowed robots to gradually penetrate into the retail industry. There are not only shelf scanning robots, but also robots with various functions such as scrubbing floors and loading and unloading trucks. They will become an “automation force” to help retail stores achieve full “automation”.
We can also see robots being introduced into retail operations, both by robot makers and by Walmart’s retail competitors. It has become an irresistible trend for robots to replace some traditional manual jobs in the retail industry, and what to do with the replaced employees is not only a problem that retail companies need to think about, but also a problem that the entire society needs to think about.
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