Say goodbye to Walmart’s robotic towers
Walmart is committed to its online order and store pickup program. As it turns out, however, how those orders are being picked up is a bit different than some of the retailer’s leadership may have been envisioning a year or more ago. Walmart is removing its automated in-store pickup towers from some of its locations and turning them off in others as it focuses on fulfilling orders at the curbside, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The retailer has pulled the 17-foot high vending machines from service in 300 locations while another 1,300 have been “hibernated,” according to Larry Blue, CEO of Bell & Howell, the vendor Walmart hired to install and maintain the devices. The retailer first began installing pickup towers in its stores in 2017.
Walmart, for its part, told the Journal that the decision was made by shoppers. “The customer told us they want one pickup spot, and they want that pickup spot to be outside,” said a spokesperson for the retailer.
This is not the first news of Walmart stepping back from robotics in its stores. The retailer pulled the plug last year on using robots to track its in-stock positions on store floors after determining that the same task could be done less expensively using its associates. Walmart found that the large numbers of personal shoppers working in its stores were able to quickly identify low levels of inventory and out-of-stocks on shelves. Robots, in this instance, were a redundancy.
Walmart’s partial retreat from its use of robotics should not, however, be read as a souring on automating tasks to improve its performance and support margins. Clear evidence of this is the retailer’s scaling of automated local fulfillment centers (LFCs).
Tom Ward, SVP of customer product, Walmart U.S., wrote in January on the company’s blog that the retailer was increasing its emphasis on fulfilling online orders locally. The retailer first began testing LFCs, “compact modular” warehouses built within or as an addition to a Walmart store, at a location in Salem, NH, in 2019.
The retailer has since begun working with a number of partners to help scale LFCs, which use robots to pick orders that are then assembled by human associates, to quickly fulfill orders for a wide variety of products at a lower cost.
- Walmart Is Pulling Plug on More Robots – The Wall Street Journal
- Is Walmart building a tower of power with its expanding in-store pickup network? – RetailWire
- Will Walmart’s decision to scrap robots have far-ranging effects? – RetailWire
- Will Walmart gain an unrivaled edge by automating its local grocery fulfillment? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is driving automated technology tests at retail and how can retailers better prioritize their investments? What is your take on the approach that Walmart has taken to date?