BONNEY LAKE, Wash. – While economists and labor experts warn artificial intelligence and automation could eliminate thousands of manufacturing jobs in the coming years, at least one company believes the same innovations won’t have similar impacts on the customer service field.
Walmart is already using robots for some jobs, and the company says they it is also looking to fill new positions.
“Honestly, we’re in the era of convenience and we’re so busy, everything’s at the touch of a button,” said shopper Akberet Cleaves.
That’s where Walmart is betting on its new pickup towers, a device that dispenses items to walk in customers.
“It’s easy to fill, easy to get orders in and customers love it,” said Bonney Lake Walmart manager David Klein.
The concept is simple – customers shop and buy products online, then pick up in store from the giant orange device.
“We’re enabling customers to pick how they shop,” added Klein.
But the pickup towers aren’t the only piece of technology to make its way into Walmart stores.
The Bonney Lake location is also using a new robot sweeper to clean floors – mostly at night. Other stores across the country are using robots to scan inventory.
In Pierce County, Walmart managers insist the devices aren’t eliminating jobs.
“The tower has actually helped to go to online grocery and delivery service which has added a whole new team we didn’t have before” said Klein.
“I don’t like going to the store. With a baby I don’t want to go in."
Mother Andrea Thomas orders her groceries ahead of time and picks them up when she’s ready. She says the new options being offered by Walmart are a game-changer.
Cleaves says using the pickup tower will change how she shops.
“I’ve had many packages stolen, and it’s a whole process where you go into the app,” she said. “You can’t talk to a person.”
But do all these new features mean Walmart could cut back on jobs? Local store manager David Klein doesn’t think so.
“We have not eliminated any positions or hours,” he said. “In fact, we are hiring.”
Klein says the technology frees up associates to help customers with online shopping or grocery delivery.
But what is for sure, more automation is coming to Walmart stores across Puget Sound.
“The company is spending about $36-million this year between renovations and new tech,” said Klein.