More robots may be coming to a Walmart near you.
For the past three years, the company has been testing shelf-scanning robots in some stores in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and California. The machines, which move up and down aisles, look for out-of-stock items and products that are mislabeled or incorrectly priced. They then flag these issues to store workers.
On Thursday, Walmart said it will expand the test to 50 stores. The bots are set to arrive in places like El Paso, Jacksonville and Fort Worth by the end of January.
The company has been careful to pitch the robots as machinery to help staffers, not replace them.
“We will always need great people in our stores working hard for our customers. This technology is a tool that helps our associates know where they can make the biggest difference for our customers,” Walmart spokesman Justin Rushing told CNNMoney.
Still, the move seems to be a harbinger of the retail world to come. With Amazon cutting into foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores, many companies are opting to cut jobs. Automation could speed up that process.
The good news for Walmart employees is that the company has had a strong 2017, bolstered by investments in its own online operation. Walmart is betting big that it can compete with Amazon with a string of takeovers, from its purchase of online marketplace Jet.com to its acquisition of Parcel, a 24-hour delivery service in New York City.
The company is also experimenting with new technology in the delivery space. Last week, Walmart announced that it’s testing a straight-to-your-fridge delivery service — which customers can monitor via their phones using in-house cameras.