Walmart Wants To Be Amazon—and It's Causing People To Lose Their Jobs

News of layoffs come shortly after the brand acquired a robotics company to help with its fulfillment centers.

The automation of jobs once performed by human workers is nothing new, and in many cases businesses have pointed to the labor shortage to justify the decision. In other cases, companies have insisted that adding automated elements like robot fry cooks and self-checkout kiosks won't cost anyone their jobs—those machines often still need to be overseen by humans to make sure there aren't malfunctions. Unfortunately, that's not the case at Walmart. Reuters reports that the big box store will be laying off nearly 1,500 workers in its Atlanta fulfillment center.

Why Walmart is making layoffs

Over the past year, Walmart has made several changes to support its growing online business. According to Walmart, part of that plan was achieved last week when the company bought Alert Innovations, a robotics company that has created bots specifically for Walmart that retrieve and dispense orders across three different temperature zones more efficiently.

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"This system also enhances the experience for associates, who are integral to helping us perfect the system," wrote Walmart in a statement on its website. What the company don't say is exactly how many associates.

Because Walmart employs well more than 100 employees, the company was required to give a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) at least 60 days before the layoffs, letting workers at the Atlanta facility know that soon 1,458 of them would be let go. While no other announcements of layoffs at other locations have yet been made, this move is a harbinger of the direction in which the company is moving. Walmart has 210 distribution centers around the world, and once the Alert Innovations technology is expanded into each center, further layoffs seem inevitable.

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This new focus on ecommerce also threatens employees at in-store shopping locations, a branch of Walmart's business that has been on the decline for a while. Back in 2016, CNBC reported that the brand closed 269 stores as part of another stage of "retooling" that eliminated mostly express stores and locations that were within 10 miles of another Walmart.

What we can expect to see going forward is greater variety in Walmart's online inventory. In 2021, Walmart added more than 20,000 new sellers to its ecommerce platform and has plans to add 40,000 more by the end of this year, Forbes reports. The brand's fulfillment services grew 500% in the last year, showing there's a need for focusing on the online business. What we'll pay attention to in the coming year is whether the speed and efficiency of fulfilling those orders is really helped by these robotic investments or if, as we suspect, you still need human employees running the show.

 

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