For some time, robotics experts have forecast that robots will replace many of the jobs within the retail industry. This is particularly true for checkout functions and packaging. Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) is at the forefront of the retail automation industry. It stands to reason it will apply some of its expertise to grocery store company Whole Foods, which it recently bought.
Amazon has a suite of products that could supplement or replace humans in a retail operation. Among these, Alexa is the most obvious. It could answer questions about groceries that range from prices to nutritional values, which are functions provided by humans.
Checkout features at many large retailers, particularly drug store chains, have moved to automated systems that scan items, check their weight and take cash or credit cards from customers. This technology is among the most basic robot-like replacement of humans and certainly something Amazon could employ.
Amazon has one of the most advanced systems to organize work flow at distribution centers. Much of it can be transferred to retail operations. Amazon Robotics is among the company’s top initiatives, according to the company:
Amazon is able to quickly package and ship millions of items to customers from a network of fulfillment centers all over the globe. This wouldn’t be possible without leveraging cutting-edge advances in technology. Amazon’s automated warehouses are successful at removing much of the walking and searching for items within a warehouse. However, commercially viable automated picking in unstructured environments still remains a difficult challenge.
Moving produce and products on and off shelves is among the most labor intensive work at grocery stores. Some of Amazon’s advances could be moved to Whole Foods.
Amazon has a dual reputation. One is that it has destroyed the brick-and-mortar retail industry and in the process cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. The other is that Amazon has become one of America’s largest employers and will continue to grow. For Whole Foods workers, the former reputation is the most likely to affect them.