Shoppers might soon encounter robots gliding up and down the aisles of their local Walmart (NYSE: WMT) store. Walmart has announced that it will be expanding the use of robots in stores as part of its effort to control labor costs. The new robots will be used to automate a range of low-level tasks. John Crecelius, senior vice president of Walmart’s U.S. central operations, said the automated personnel are handling “very mundane and repetitive” tasks where turnover is high.
According to Walmart’s announcement, the company plans to roll out more than 3,900 autonomous machines in the near future. The additions will include 1,500 new autonomous floor cleaners, called Auto-C machines. These machines are currently used in 200 stores to clean and polish floors, a task that would take a typical associate roughly two hours a day to complete.
The company is also adding 300 additional shelf scanners, called Auto-S machines, which scan shelves for out-of-stock items, misplaced merchandise, and wrong or missing labels. About 1,200 FAST Unloaders that scan and sort items from trucks and 900 new Pickup towers for retrieving customers’ online orders are also part of the plan. An exact timeline for when these robots will be added to Walmart’s robot fleet has not been disclosed.
Walmart says the robots are meant to work alongside their human counterparts. The move will free up the company’s associates to do more specialized work instead of the more mundane and repetitive tasks. Crecelius said in a statement that the robots allow associates “time to focus more on selling merchandise and serving customers.”
Walmart has been quietly testing the use of autonomous machines for more than two years. As the world’s largest employer, the company has been under pressure to increase its wages to provide more stable financial footing for its associates. The company increased its minimum wage to $11 an hour in January after the passage of new tax legislation by the Trump Administration.