retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Los Angeles Times reports that Walmart "will add shelf-scanning robots to 650 more U.S. stores by the end of the summer, bringing its fleet to 1,000. The 6-foot-tall devices, equipped with 15 cameras each, roam aisles and send alerts to store employees’ handheld devices when items are out of stock."

According to the story, "The new robots, designed by San Francisco-based Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., join the ranks of Walmart’s increasingly automated workforce, which also includes devices to scrub floors, unload trucks and gather items on online-grocery orders."
KC's View:
I saw several of these things wandering the exhibit floor at the National Retail Federation show in New York City yesterday, and while they are impressive, I did find myself feeling a little skeptical about them.

Not that they can't do what they're pitched as doing. They seem perfectly capable. But I can't help but wonder if stores - and more importantly, customers - would be better served by having employees in the aisles, able to detect out of stocks and clean up messes, but also able to talk to shoppers and serve both an ambassadorial and utilitarian role.

I don't think I'm being anti-technology here, and I acknowledge that low unemployment numbers put pressure on retailers to find other solutions. But low unemployment won't last forever, and I'm just wondering if there are ways in which a more human approach could eventually be more differentiating.