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Sam’s Club is putting robot janitors in all of its stores during the pandemic

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In partnership with Brain Corp, an artificial intelligence company, the membership-only warehouse chain will distribute 372 new autonomous floor scrubbers to its stores this fall.
Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart, has already deployed hundreds of the robotic scrubbers. With the addition of 372 new robots, the company will soon have a scrubber in each location. It will also implement one of Brain Corp’s accessories that will allow them to analyze shelf inventory.
This move comes at a time when shoppers are looking for grocery experiences that involve less human contact, as grocers look for ways to reduce pressure on store workers and increase efficiency. Many grocers have found that their needs are shifting with more shoppers stocking up in stores and ordering groceries online. They believe robots and AI offer solutions that can help bring down costs and improve store operations.

“There’s strong interest in moving rapidly in this direction because everyone knows they need to raise their game to stay competitive,” said Bill Bishop, co-founder of retail and grocery consulting firm Brick Meets Click. “It’s ultimately more cost-effective to automate than to staff up, especially in today’s labor market.”

Sam’s Club isn’t the first of its kind to implement this kind of technology in stores. Walmart (WMT) wants its store employees to help customers instead of mopping floors and unloading boxes in backrooms, so it’s increasingly turning to robots to fill those tasks.
Last year Walmart announced that by February 2021 it expects to have autonomous floor scrubbers in 1,860 of its more than 4,700 US stores. It will also have robots that scan shelf inventory at 350 stores. And there will be bots at 1,700 stores that automatically scan boxes as they come off delivery trucks and sort them by department onto conveyer belts.
“Any coronavirus-related recession is likely to bring about a spike in labor-replacing automation,” the Brookings Institution said in a report in March.

“I strongly believe that the current health crisis will accelerate the adoption of robots in retail,” Steven Keith Platt, research director for the Retail Analytics Council and adjunct professor at Northwestern University, told CNN Business.

CNN Business’ Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this report.

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