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Walmart Gives Walking Papers to Inventory Tracking Robots

Score one sizable victory for human workers at the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer.

Walmart has ended its contract with a company that provided six-foot-tall robots designed to keep track of inventory on the retailer’s shelves, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The decision ends a five-year partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics, which had placed robots in about 500 of Walmart’s 4,700 stores, according to the WSJ citing sources familiar with the situation.

While robots are increasingly becoming a presence in the retail world, Walmart decided that human employees could actually do a better job of keeping an eye on store shelves and making sure products are kept in stock, the WSJ reports.

The catalyst for the decision was the COVID-19 pandemic, with more workers now walking the aisles in search of various items to fulfill surging online pickup and delivery orders. Walmart is now focusing on enlisting these workers to help keep track of inventory levels, possibly in combination with other automation technology, according to the report.

The decision to ditch Bossa Nova’s inventory tracking robots is a major shift for Walmart. The big-box retail giant spent years at investor conferences and other venues chatting up the benefits of the robotic helpers, arguing that they would cut labor costs and boost sales by ensuring that shelves are more efficiently restocked.

Still, there may have been other considerations as well, such as the fear of getting hit by an anti-robot backlash from customers.

John Furner, Walmart U.S. chief executive, “has concerns about how shoppers [would] react to seeing a robot working in a store,” the WSJ noted, citing a source.

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