Alright, Walmart isn’t getting into the self-driving car game, but they’re planning for some in-store technology that might be even more interesting.
The retail behemoth recently patented a concept for robotic shopping carts, which could end up causing a huge shift in both customer and employee relations in stores. Here’s everything you need to know about Walmart’s self-driving shopping carts.
These “motorized transport units” will attach to shopping carts, enabling them to drive on their own around stores. They’ll be able to move containers, check inventory, dock themselves, retrieve trash, and scan, obtain, and deliver products. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll be programmed for customer interactions, too.
Walmart’s self-driving shopping cart patent mentions that these robots will address some of its major in-store issues, including insufficient staffing during busy hours, messy aisles, theft, and under-trained employees.
Of course, this news doesn’t exactly bode well for retail store staff, as these robots will be able to take over many duties from them. The reduction in personnel that Walmart’s self-driving cart tech would create could exacerbate the shoplifting problems already associated with automated retail technology.
Furthermore, over 200 violent crimes have been committed at Walmart locations in the US in 2016 so far. Bloomberg argues that this spike in crime is related to understaffing. Reductions in in-store personnel are, of course, a trend among many retailers. Forrester reports that robots will eliminate 6% of all US jobs by 2021.
Customers, especially younger ones, will probably appreciate Walmart’s self-driving carts, though. An InReality survey published in March of this year discovered that 69% of customers would be more likely to make in-store purchases if they had access to kiosks or interactive displays. Furthermore, 78% would be more likely to visit a store if it offered self-service for finding products or brands, and 75% say that a self-service solution for comparing products or prices would increase their purchase likelihood.
Walmart spokesperson Lorenzo Lopez told Business Insider that “Walmart was able to revolutionize retail using technology to better serve customers, and as the retail landscape continues to evolve, we want to be able to serve customers when and how they want to shop. That means testing new and innovative ways to serve the customer, which we’ve done through different initiatives like our grocery pickup service.”
The retail giant already has a mobile payment app called Walmart Pay—read our thoughts on improving it here–and recently signed deals with both Uber and Lyft to have drivers start delivering grocery orders to customers. It looks like Walmart’s self-driving carts will be another building block in the 54-year-old company’s journey of modernization.
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