Are robo-carts coming to a Walmart near you?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Sep 15, 2016

Associates making cart checks in store parking lots may become a thing of the past if Walmart brings the new self-driving shopping cart it recently patented to its stores.

According to reports, Walmart’s robo-shopping cart will be equipped with motors that have attached sensors and video cameras. Shoppers will be able use their smartphones or some other device to request carts that will self-drive to the spot where the customer is located in the store. Once customers are done with their shopping and have loaded their purchases into their vehicles, the carts will return to a docking station on their own.

In its patent application, Walmart positioned the robo-carts as a means to improve the customer experience and reduce its dependence on human associates. The carts would have the added capability of roaming Walmart stores to check on inventory levels. Humans, freed from the task of rounding up carts, could concentrate on other activities such as filling holes on shelves identified by the new carts.

“While it’s too early to determine how we would even potentially use this technology, our goal always is to find ways to help simplify processes to help our associates better serve our customers as they will continue to play a critical role in the success of our business,” the retailer responded in a company statement.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see a strong business case for self-driving shopping carts at Walmart and other chains? Are there other uses of technology to improve operations that you think would be a better investment than robo-carts?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The only disappointment may be consumers expecting the carts will drive themselves in the stores."
"Here’s a link to a story about IRI’s VideoCart, from when it launched in 1990. I was quite sure it would succeed, but it didn’t."
"...the potential maintenance and upkeep on these carts seems extremely costly."

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11 Comments on "Are robo-carts coming to a Walmart near you?"


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Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest

The most important, and fastest way to increase sales in stores is to have items in stock on organized shelves and racks. The second most important thing is to have a clean, working shopping cart readily accessible to shoppers.

It these two objectives can be accomplished, there will be ROI on auto driving carts at Walmart, and other big box stores.

The only disappointment may be consumers expecting the carts will drive themselves in the stores. Getting carts to safely navigate in store around all of the floor displays and customers is simply a stretch too far at this juncture. For those not wanting to push a cart, click and collect is already an alternative.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

When is a cart not a cart? When it does much more than it was originally made to do.

A cart that self-drives back to the front of a store is an expensive compared to labor costs. Yet a cart that can help track inventory takes it to another level. Or a cart that can provide data on shopping patterns, track individual customers’ habits and more … well that may make the self-driving robo-cart more interesting.

David Livingston
Guest
5 years 2 months ago

Chains like Walmart that suffer from a huge labor shortage should pursue this technology. How many times have you gone to Walmart and observed hundreds of shopping carts randomly strung about, making parking more difficult?

I had to laugh when the first sentence in the article was “Associates making cart checks in store parking lots may become a thing of the past.” I think for the most part it already is a thing of the past, at least for a day or two. With wages rising for unskilled labor, this is a way to tackle the problem. Other uses of technology to improve operations would be facial recognition of convicted criminals and better ways to track merchandise until it is paid for.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

The most interesting potential of this technology is the ability of the cart’s various sensors to monitor product inventory, planogram compliance and general cleanliness and state of the store on a consistent basis. The marketing and merchandising teams that design the store experiences at headquarters have renderings and photos of the initial installations but beyond that, the expectation and reality drift apart over time.

Being able to monitor and maintain a consistent brand experience throughout all the stores is extremely valuable. The ability to have a consistent and ongoing method to do inventory checks to address out-of-stocks and shelf management is invaluable.

Lee Kent
Guest

Have we gotten so lazy that we can’t even push around our own shopping cart? The only part of this that sounds practical is rounding up the carts in the parking lot, but that too is iffy. How many car/cart crashes can you imagine as a result of this?

This sounds like a great big waste of money and patents to me, but that’s just my 2 cents.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

If self-driving shopping carts can provide additional info on shopper insights and help keep inventory in stock, then this might be useful. Otherwise, the potential maintenance and upkeep on these carts seems extremely costly. Lowe’s is currently working on creating a customer service robot that speaks numerous languages and helps customers locate items. This seems like worthwhile technology to invest in. Touch screens that allow customers to locate products in the store, or pull up a store layout on their phone, also seem like worthwhile investments.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

Here’s a link to a story about IRI’s VideoCart, from when it launched in 1990. I was quite sure it would succeed, but it didn’t. Nice bells and whistles, it had.

Anyway, the success of Walmart’s new cart will depend on the costs of production, maintenance and reliability. In answer to the poll question, I am positive these concepts will be tested, but I give this one about a 50% shot of making it, no more, no less. And I’m 100% sure that there will be improvements to shopping carts, along technological lines, in the near future.

Peter Fader
Guest

This is a great example of the old metaphor: “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” This is not going to help retailers address the problems that are leading to their demise. Retailers should focus their efforts on understanding what their customers are doing instead of obsessing over the location of shopping carts.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Contributing Editor, RetailWire; Founder and CEO, Vision First
5 years 2 months ago

If only they could make the wheels not lock up on the carts … That, along with not being able to find one when you need it, is what annoys shoppers.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Self-driving shopping carts cruising the store aisles and parking lot. What could possibly go wrong? Actually the list is fairly long. My expectation is the enthusiasm for this concept will diminish the first time a car and cart collide, regardless of who’s at fault.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“Humans, freed from the task of rounding up carts, could concentrate on other activities such as filling holes on shelves identified by the new carts.” Or filling-out unemployment forms. I guess even Walmart sees the negative PR in admitting that they just want to get rid of people … period. If this idea can fly, I think we can say goodbye to every low-skill job in America.

But can it fly? Fifty years of waiting for my personal jet pack to arrive has made me skeptical of high-tech solutions to low-tech problems.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The only disappointment may be consumers expecting the carts will drive themselves in the stores."
"Here’s a link to a story about IRI’s VideoCart, from when it launched in 1990. I was quite sure it would succeed, but it didn’t."
"...the potential maintenance and upkeep on these carts seems extremely costly."

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