In addition to Walmart starting to use 16-foot automated towers to distribute online orders, scan-and-go technology to replace cashiers and digital screens to answer customers' questions, it may eventually deploy robots to handle inventory.
"One thing is for sure, employees will be in different roles," Greg Foran, president and CEO of Walmart, said in response to a question posed by TheStreet on Thursday, Aug. 17 during a media call. "Do I want to have a situation where in every Supercenter I've got a team of associates out in the back of the store unloading a truck? No."
Still, Foran said the big-box retailer is working to sustain its employees' jobs as best it can.
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Enter, Walmart Academy, where 1 million of the company's employees will eventually be taught fundamental retail skills that go beyond stocking shelves and customer service, such as which items turn a profit and why.
So, will there be fewer employees? Foran said "it will depend" on consumers and how their shifting needs shape the future of retail. That is why Walmart's "academies are so important to us," he said, as they will help to create new jobs.
"What we have our associates doing now versus what they were doing two years ago is dramatically different, and I think that will accelerate," Foran said.
As for its stores, in general, Foran said, "I'm pretty sure we're still going to have them" in 10 years' time. It sounds like Walmart is building itself up to be the next Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) more than was ever contemplated.
On Thursday, after Walmart reported a slightly better-than-expected second quarter, the company said it will station its Pickup Tower in 100 stores by the end of the year. The tower can hold up to 300 small and midsize packages. All customers have to do is walk up to it (its doors automatically open when it senses a person approach), use its screen to scan their receipts located on their mobile devices and the tower disburses their online-ordered purchases.
Walmart said in May that it will graduate 225,000 employees from its training academies by the end of the year. Currently, the company has 175 academies, which are typically attached to a Walmart store.
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