Grocers Hire More Robots

Whole Foods, Kroger and Walmart are among the chains investing in robots.

July 31, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas—Robots have become valued employees at several retail chains, including Kroger, Whole Foods and Walmart, Forbes reports. Overall, retailers will invest $3.6 billion in artificial technology across the world this year, with a predicted $12 billion by 2023, according to Juniper Research.

Much of that spending is earmarked for fulfillment and warehouse duties, but some will be funneled for in-store services, such as robot delivery cars, scan-and-sort inventory robots, and safety robots, like Giant Food Stores’ Marty.

As more retailers embrace robotic workers, there are a few pitfalls to overcome. First, robots can disturb shoppers. In Scotland, grocer Margiotta’s robot Fabio freaked out shoppers so much that they avoided any aisle with the robot on it.

Second, technology can make mistakes, such as when Apple’s facial recognition software pinpointed the wrong person as a shoplifter. Third, robots will eliminate some human jobs. “In the AI-dominated world, employees who were once drivers, stockers or cashiers can be retrained to operate and maintain the devices and programs needed for food production, delivery and sales,” said Ben Wald, cofounder of Very.

However, there are some decided benefits to robots in a retail setting. They always get the price right. They can find the product on the shelf. And they don’t mind doing the mindless and boring tasks.

For more on artificial intelligence and robotics in the convenience retailing industry, see “Mapping Innovation” in the April issue of NACS Magazine.