Wal-Mart Replaces More Than 4,000 Employees With Machines

UpdateA Walmart director of corporate communications has made the following statement:

The headline and article state that Walmart “replaced more than 4,000 employees with machines.” It also says that the Cash360 machines we’ve put in some of our back offices have “eliminated jobs.” Neither of these statements are the case. When we went through the back office transformation last year, we shifted positions and labor hours to the sales floor. Every associate who previously held a back office position was offered a chance to stay with the company in a customer-facing role. Almost all of them chose to stay and many moved into supervisory or department manager positions. The distinction here is important, especially given that bringing associates closer to the customer is a key component of the business strategy we’ve outlined. In this case, automation in the back office allowed us to move more people onto the sales floor, where they are able to do what people do best – serve customers.

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The Wall Street Journal published a headline today that should strike fear into the heart of every crusaders in the fight for $15: “Robots Are Replacing Workers Where You Shop.”

As the story explains, Wal-Mart is replacing some of its non-customer facing workers with robots, like bookkeepers who were responsible for counting and storing the store's cash supply.

Last August, a 55-year-old Wal-Mart employee found out her job would now be done by a robot. Her task was to count cash and track the accuracy of the store’s books from a desk in a windowless back room. She earned $13 an hour.


Instead, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. started using a hulking gray machine that counts eight bills per second and 3,000 coins a minute. The Cash360 machine digitally deposits money at the bank, earning interest for Wal-Mart faster than sending an armored car. And it uses software to predict how much cash is needed on a given day to reduce excess.


‘They think it will be a more efficient way to process the money,’ said the employee, who has worked with Wal-Mart for a decade.”

Wal-Mart has a Cash360 machine in nearly all of its 4,700 US stores, eliminating thousands of jobs in what is yet another example of how automation will soon replace hundreds of thousands of jobs in the retail and food-service industries. Previously, we reported on McDonald’s “Experience of the Future” initiative, which one analyst calculates will lead to the replacement of 2,500 cashiers with self-order kiosks.

A Wal-Mart spokesman claims that most of these employees were moved into store jobs to improve service. But according to WSJ, more than 500 have left the company. The store accountant is now a greeter at the front door, where she still earns $13 an hour.

Automation isn’t motivated, as some liberals believe, by a desire to squeeze every last penny of profit out of a business. In reality, automation could be brick and mortar retailers’ last hope for survival.

Shopping is moving online, hourly wages are rising and retail profits are shrinking—a formula that pressures retailers from Wal-Mart to Tiffany & Co. to find technology that can do the rote labor of retail workers or replace them altogether.


As Amazon.com Inc. makes direct inroads into traditional retail with its plans to buy grocer Whole Foods Market Inc., Wal-Mart and other large retailers are under renewed pressure to invest heavily to keep up.”

Economists say retail jobs are ripe for automation. A 2015 report by Citi Research, co-authored with researchers from the Oxford Martin School, found that two-thirds of U.S. retail jobs are at “high risk” of disappearing by 2030.


“Self-checkout lanes can replace cashiers. Autonomous vehicles could handle package delivery or warehouse inventory. Even more complex tasks like suggesting what toy or shirt a shopper might want could be handled by a computer with access to a shopper’s buying history, similar to what already happens online today.


‘The primary predictor for automation is how routine a task is,’ said Ebrahim Rahbari, an economist at Citi Research. ‘A big issue is that retail is a sizable percentage of the workforce.’”

Nearly 16 million people, or 11% of nonfarm US jobs, are in the retail industry, mostly as cashiers or salespeople. The industry eclipsed the shrinking manufacturing sector as the biggest employer 15 years ago – and now they’re disappearing, too. Since January, the US economy has lost about 71,000 retail jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The decline of retail jobs, should it occur on a large scale—as seems likely long-term—will make the labor market even less hospitable for a group of workers who already face limited opportunities for stable, well-paid employment,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Earlier this year, Beverly Henderson took a pay cut and gave up her health-care benefits when she left Wal-Mart in the wake of the back-office changes. “I’m 59 years old,” she said. “I never worked on the floor. I’ve always worked office positions and I had no desire.”

She is now an office manager at a local business she says can’t afford to give her the same perks or $16.75 an hour she made after 16 years with Wal-Mart. “I would have never left Wal-Mart. They were paying me decent,” said the Southport, N.C., resident. At Wal-Mart, Ms. Henderson managed store invoices, a job the company used technology to mostly centralize.”

The goal of automation isn’t to reduce a retailer’s staff, said Brian McCabe, an executive at a subsidiary of security firm G4S PLC. “We can optimize labor,” he said. “How a given retailer exercises that benefit or opportunity is up to them.”

However, the “optimizing labor” pitch is specious: There’s little evidence that it’s happening on a wide scale. If it were, the US labor force wouldn’t be struggling with the sharp declines in productivity witnessed in recent years. The decline suggests that, instead of freeing up workers for “higher value” tasks, automation has entered a phase where it's focused on the “low-hanging fruit” of low-skill retail and food-service jobs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he’s not worried about automation destroying American jobs, believing any real threat to be "50 or 100 years off," despite a report from PwC claiming that more than a third of US jobs are at “high risk” of being destroyed by automation by the early 2030s.

Well, Mnuchin certainly isn’t worried about losing HIS job to a robot - unless that robot once ran an investment bank called Goldman Sachs.



monk27 Jim Sampson (not verified) Thu, 07/20/2017 - 00:58 Permalink

Yeah, they installed those self-checkout machines, then some genius decided to replace them with another set of self-checkout machines that won't accept cash (just cards). So, I told them to go fuck themselves and, in the rare instances when I'm still buying stuff from Walmart, I use live cashiers exclusively.

In reply to by Jim Sampson (not verified)

LittleGreenMan Mr 9x19 Thu, 07/20/2017 - 07:52 Permalink

Someone ran a commercial with that idea probably 15 years ago.  It was a strange commercial, b/c it wasn't selling anything, it was trying to prepare society for the future (or something?).  It had a man in a trench-coat walking through a store picking-up things and putting them into his pockets.  Then he simply walks out of the store.  It appears that he is shoplifting, but somehow the commercial explains that he was scanned on the way out and automatically paid.

In reply to by Mr 9x19

poetic justice monk27 Thu, 07/20/2017 - 12:31 Permalink

Stuff the self check outs... Better to have Human intervention. In Australia there is a story of a woman who eventually was caught due to her own stupidity, despite her having a great little number going.She was printing barcode labels, scanned from two minute noodle packets. Taking them into a Supermarket and placing over the original barcodes was the modus operandi. An example could be a $20 Jar of Moccona Coffee checked out at 70 cents. Eventually the supermarkets became suspicious, but as long as she was not returning often to the same place, the scam appeared to work fine. She was caught after returning multiple times to one location.Further to this... I work in Australia although have a house and wife in South Africa. In that country I have never seen a self serve Supermarket Checkout or even a Self Serve Petrol /Gas Station, unlike in Au. What is going to happen in Africa when the technology is finally introduced? I think I can sum that up in one word... RIOTS!!

In reply to by monk27

JuliaS Deplorable Thu, 07/20/2017 - 00:53 Permalink

The only thing different about a self-checkout compared to the normal one (aside from couple extra wires) is the lack of a hired buttom pusher (the proverbial elevator man). You're doing his job now, operating pretty much the same machine that's been sitting there since early 80's. As for the clerk, what was his or her personal contribution to the transaciton that was so essential? Bagging an item? Surely you couldn't have done that yourself. That requires years of training and a diploma, right?!In older days, when calculations were done by hand, you could've argued that the clerk was quicker with money, doing the same type of addition day in and day out, but since the mechanical cash register, the machine does all the counting. The only requirement for the clerk is to have at least an eye and a finger. The rest of his function has been automated away long long time ago. He's not a seller. He's a security checkpoint operator, making sure you don't steal company goods with the rest being pretend-work.Jobs are going the way of the dodo, one by one, but with each disappearing operator, please explain to me his or her value.What did that person contribute? Is it even fair to call it a contribution, when it's the exact opposite. You buy a loaf of bread and the guy at the checkout wants his piece. His sacred living wage."I see you're taking that bread and paying for it? Well, I want some too! Give me a share of your income and I'll give you a receipt. I'll even draw a smiley face on it to sweeten the deal!"

In reply to by Deplorable

Wild Swings JuliaS Thu, 07/20/2017 - 13:22 Permalink

 "As for the clerk, what was his or her personal contribution to the transaciton that was so essential? Bagging an item? Surely you couldn't have done that yourself. That requires years of training and a diploma, right?!" Nowadays they don't even do that! Most checkout clerks are unfriendly, dumb as shit with giving change, and stare mindlessly at you without lifting a finger as you bag your own god-damn groceries. So fuck em! I only use the normal line when I buy alcohol because the law forces you to. For everything else, the robot is faster and much sweeter. 

In reply to by JuliaS

perkunas PitBullsRule Wed, 07/19/2017 - 23:28 Permalink

Education is a lie, when the factories moved to China they now hire Chinese engineers only. They can speak Chinese, and understand the political system. Also they live there, where its made, and can be paid in pennies, they have billions of them to chose from.  They no longer need you, or your education. Don't be stupid and get a degree, that you will be paying for for the rest of your life.

In reply to by PitBullsRule

rejected Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:35 Permalink

And we are seeing the beginning results of this in restaurant and retail sales declining.  These businesses have been on corporate welfare for years by letting the taxpayer pick up the tab. EBT, Section 8, Medicaid, EIC and a host of other gimmies.These terminations will accelerate the economic decline as people with less money don't shop.

GotAFriendInBen Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:42 Permalink

Oh no!!Another story on that cursed technology and automation taking jobs awayWhat were they ever thinking in inventing the wheel??It's a bill counter with a little firmware, Been around for decadesZero relationship to people needing to make a living wage

Miffed Microbi… Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:44 Permalink

I had a great day today. Both my robot DNA/RNA extractors were down so no Dr got his CMV, HIV or Hep C viral loads they ordered. Oh boy were they frothy! Can't you go back to the manual method?? Hell no Sir, that ain't supported by regulations or any vendor now. So sorry, so sorry. When will be back on line? Hell if I know. There's no parts available, we are six sigma lean baby so we run on just in time. Go fuck myself? Well, ok, I've got nothing better to do.


RedBaron616 Wed, 07/19/2017 - 23:04 Permalink

People are fools to check themselves out when no discount is given for doing so. All you are doing is ensuring the store makes a larger profit by letting YOU do THEIR job for free. I don't care if it does take longer in a line with a cashier. I refuse to do Walmart's job for nothing. Now give me a discount and perhaps I will reconsider, but that won't happen. Too many clowns happy to do it for free.