The Wall Street Journal: Walmart scraps its plan to use robots to take inventory

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A Bossa Nova Robotics scanning device moves through an aisle at a Walmart Supercenter during the annual shareholders meeting event on May 31, 2018 in Rogers, Arkansas. The retailer has found different, sometimes simpler solutions prove just as useful as the machines.

Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images

Walmart Inc. WMT, +1.19% has ended its effort to use roving robots in store aisles to keep track of its inventory, reversing a yearslong push to automate the task with the hulking machines after finding during the coronavirus pandemic that humans can help get similar results.

The retail giant has ended its contract with robotics company Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., with which it joined over the past five years to gradually add six-foot-tall inventory-scanning machines to stores. Walmart had made the robots a frequent topic of conversation at media and investor events in recent years, hoping the technology could help reduce labor costs and increase sales by making sure products are kept in stock.

Walmart ended the partnership because it found different, sometimes simpler solutions that proved just as useful, said people familiar with the situation. As more shoppers flock to online delivery and pickup because of Covid-19 concerns, Walmart has more workers walking the aisles frequently to collect online orders, gleaning new data on inventory problems, said some of these people. The retailer is pursuing ways to use those workers to monitor product amounts and locations, as well as other automation technology, according to the people familiar with the situation.

In addition, Walmart U.S. chief executive John Furner has concerns about how shoppers react to seeing a robot working in a store, said one of these people.

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