Walmart made store greeters visible decades ago, but in the next three years it might be hard to get even a “hello” out of what is roaming the aisles.
The discount retailer announced at its annual investor meeting in Tampa, Fla., that by 2026 approximately 65% of stores will be automated. The news comes not long after Walmart dismissed hundreds of employees at online fulfillment facilities.
The company’s $15 billion capital spending budget this year has an automated technology theme. In addition to the move on the store floor, Walmart said more than half of all packages will be moved through automated fulfillment centers by 2026, improving unit cost averages by about 20%.
There was no indication that more layoffs will occur in the coming months. Walmart is the largest private employer in the U.S. behind a workforce that is about 1.7 million strong. Officials are saying the automation will replace roles where the pay is lower. The shift appears to be leaning toward paying employees more to do less physical work.
Walmart has already invested huge sums of money in technology at online order facilities and recently purchased Alert Innovation, which is a grocery robotics company. The retailer expects sales to rise as much as 5% during the first quarter.
About 200 workers at Pedricktown, N.J., and hundreds of others at Fort Worth, Texas; Chino, Calif.; Davenport, Fla.; and Bethlehem, Pa.; were let go in late March due to a reduction or elimination in evening and weekend shifts, according to Reuters.
“Customer expectations are changing, and we are moving quickly to meet and exceed their needs,” Walmart said in a statement. “As demand grows, we are maximizing our network of stores and fulfillment centers, to deliver items for online customers, when and how they want them. We recently adjusted staffing levels at our FC in select markets to better prepare for the future needs of customers. This decision was not made lightly, and we’re working closely with affected associates to help them understand what career options may be available at other Walmart locations.”
The spokesperson also confirmed that impacted workers would be paid for 90 days to find jobs at other facilities, including those in Joliet, Ill., and Lancaster, Texas, where the company has opened up new high-tech e-commerce distribution centers.