Walmart announced Tuesday it will add thousands of robots to its stores – including floor scrubbers, box sorters and inventory scanners.
Arthur Wheaton is director of Western NY Labor and Environmental Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University. He says Walmart’s move stems from a desire to keep brick and mortar stores open, and that robots have clear advantages.
“Walmart’s move to robotics in more of their stores is not surprising. Robots do not organize unions and robots do not demand a living wage. Robots can have some advantages in regards to doing repetitive, dangerous or low value added work. Robots and automation can assist workers in doing their job and do not always result in fewer workers. They tend to displace lower wage workers doing repetitive tasks and increase higher paid workers designing software, maintenance and installation.
“The tight labor market in many areas has made hiring low skill workers more difficult for companies refusing to pay living wages. Walmart is trying to leverage its brick and mortar store locations at a time when many competitors have closed their brick and mortar stores. The retail industry is known for low margins and lots of competition.
“Robots are one tool and not the entire answer to the problems facing retail today. McDonald’s has also installed kiosks and machines to assist or replace staff at their locations. Self-checkouts at grocery stores keep expanding as well. In a tight labor market, companies look to meet customer demands in a cost effective way.”