At first glance, robots in trade sound like science fiction, but not like the real world. But robots that fill shelves and interact with customers are already part of everyday life -- at least at Walmart. The retail giant uses 1,500 robots in customer interaction, the supply chain and inventory, making them the largest retailer to have ventured into robotics.
The idea is to streamline processes and reduce costs. A change that, of course, does not necessarily excite many employees and again points to one of the greatest challenges of our automated time, man-machine interaction.
The 1,500 robots already in use in 350 stores are Walmart’s first attempt to pave the way for further automation and employee support. The robots scan the shelves in the stores, unload cartons of products, clean the floors or help consumers at the POS. However, Walmart clearly emphasizes that the robot should not be a substitute for the employees, it should create an optimized customer experience and give the employees time for more important tasks.
How Bossa Nova’s robots track inventory at Walmart stores (Source: TechCrunch)
The goal is to create a smoother experience for customers and employees by creating clean, better organized businesses that function smoothly.
Inside and outside view -- employees are less enthusiastic
Even if Walmart’s management reacts extremely positively to the robots in the stores and reports enthusiastically, the employees are less euphoric. They report that they are afraid of being replaced, that they feel pushed to work as much themselves as the robot and therefore feel even more stress than before. Other Walmart employees report that they have to spend a lot of time teaching the robot the basics of retail and often reprogramming it when inventory or store layout changes.
They also report that customers are sometimes very frightened when one of the robots next to them silently puts the shelves away.
A long way
There may be a long way to go before robots become the norm in our everyday lives, but actions like Walmart’s are essential to take away the population’s fears of new technology and to show employees that they are far from being completely replaced by machines.
Contribution picture: Walmart