Walmart inventory bots flopped. Will Sam’s succeed?
Inventory tracking robots did not work out for Walmart, but now the company is trying them out at Sam’s Club.
Walmart is introducing 600 floor cleaner robots to Sam’s Club. The devices, supplied by Brain Corp., are also fitted with shelf-scanning technology to take stock of inventory while they work, according to The Street. The robots will be present in every Sam’s Club location.
In November of 2020, Walmart ended its pilot of standalone shelf inventory robots after concluding that it was less expensive to simply leave the task of noting out-of-stocks to the employees working the shelves. Walmart also registered concerns about customers reacting poorly to seeing the inventory robots roaming the aisles. The retailer had about 500 inventory robots operating in 7,400 stores before the pilot was ended.
In-store robotics are becoming a more frequent fixture at large grocers with much of the technology being adopted to manage back-of-house operations. More grocers are managing picking and packing through robotic solutions.
Other grocers have also piloted robots in the customer-facing portion of their operations. Stop & Shop began putting the googly-eyed, hazard detecting Marty the Robot in stores in 2019. The robot has not proven popular, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. As social distancing rules were put into place nationwide, Stop & Shop customers began to complain that the looming presence of Marty was preventing them from maintaining distance from one another, according to Mashable.
While it may be perplexing that Walmart would implement technology in Sam’s Club similar to the kind that failed in its mainline stores, scan and go technology, which has remained in consistent use at Sam’s Club, was piloted and dropped twice at Walmart. The first pilot ran from 2012 to 2014 and the second ran from 2017 to 2018.
Most recently, Walmart introduced a scan and go option as part of its Walmart+ loyalty program, available to use through that smartphone app.
- Walmart Brings Inventory-Tracking Robots to Sam’s Club – The Street
- Marty the robot: Non-essential worker – Mashable
- Will Walmart’s decision to scrap robots have far-ranging effects? – RetailWire
- Walmart drops scan and go tech again – RetailWire
- Mobile scan & go – Walmart+
- Ocado unveils lighter robots to help grocery giants like Kroger take on Amazon – CNBC
- Are store robots cute, creepy or nearly useless? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Why factors make you think that inventory robots may have success at Sam’s Club in light of the experience at Walmart? What do you think the most valuable use of front-of-house robots is in grocery?