Target Says No to Robot Workers
Robot workers are becoming increasingly common in stores across the U.S. In fact, some even have names, like Marty from Giant Food Stores who roams the aisles with his googly eyes looking for spills, empty shelves, and other things that might be out of order. Walmart also adopted the new technology, and earlier this year announced plans to expand its robot fleet to more of its 4,600 U.S. stores.
But there’s one big box store that is resisting the idea of these “automated assistants,” and that’s Target.
CEO Brian Cornell gave it to us straight up:
You won't see robots in Target stores anytime soon. We really think, even in today's environment, where people are talking about AI and robotics and different elements of technology, the human touch still really matters.
At first, this statement seemed somewhat hypocritical. After all, Target added self-checkout registers and automatic cash-counting machines to hundreds of its stores several years ago. And while Cornell made it sound like it was entirely a customer-focused decision, money also has a lot to do with it.
As you can imagine, a 6-foot-something robot that mops floors doesn’t come cheap. It’s hard to pinpoint any exact numbers but it’s safe to assume companies are spending millions on these automated helpers. For Walmart, the robot solution makes much more sense: it has more locations and bigger stores than Target so there's a greater needed for extra help with menial tasks. Bottom line, it’s a major investment and one that doesn’t seem to make much sense for Target right now.
Carl Benedikt Frey, fellow at the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University put it best, "Tractors were first adopted on larger farms and only later trickled down to some mid-sized ones as prices dropped. The same is true of robots in warehouses and retail stores." (CNN)