Retail

Walmart, Target Eye Automation To Improve Customer Service

To boost customer service, look to the robots? The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that retail giants, such as Walmart and Target, want to automate some operational functions, with an eye on giving staff more time to personally attend to consumers.

For Target, it’s a matter of bringing automatic cash-counting machines into the fold, which are slated to debut at roughly 2,000 stores over the next few months. The machines are known as “cash recyclers” and they count hard cash, but can also serve a predictive function, letting the firm know how much of the paper notes and coins may be needed on a shift.

In a staggered rollout, a company source told the WSJ that 500 stores will have the machines beginning in August, and the remainder of the rollout will come thereafter. The workers who performed those tasks will be assigned to other roles, said the WSJ source, where one full shift a week had been assigned to those cash-counting duties per store.

The shift is illustrative of retailers’ battle to combat rising wages (by decreasing some manual functions via automation). Target, beginning in 2018, boosted its starting hourly pay to $12 and that rate should be as much as $15 by 2020. The trend toward automation would blunt at least some of the impact of online commerce through enhanced customer service, such as helping with orders that are placed online but picked up in stores.

Walmart’s efforts include bringing robots to the premises that will scan inventory, with a (robotic) eye on finding out what is out of stock and helping direct consumers to find what they need. Those robot deployments will happen next year, said WSJ. In an effort to speed getting products on the shelves, Walmart will add conveyor belts to stores’ back rooms to bring items in with haste from truck to shelf.  The automation here can help shave the number of workers assigned to such unloading by about half, and frees up labor costs to allocate to other tasks, the firm said.

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