When I was grocery shopping last, I encountered this thing. Tally is a robot that inventories the products on the shelves. It scoots Roomba like down the aisle, laser scanning bar codes and counting items on the shelves. It does the regular audits, replacing the half-a-dozen crew, who used to do that work. I’m sure one person still manages Tally and most of those stock boys still have to manually restock those shelves, at least for now, but that’s still a lot of shifts that nobody works anymore.
As a life long computer programmer, I marvel at this robotic application. Not from a technological point of view, but that someone had the insight and means to recognize this opportunity. It’s a perfect application. It performs a task that was once labor intensive. It involves almost no customer interaction and does it all, without being intrusive. It moves slowly enough and is small enough that any customer can easily reach around it for anything on the shelves.
Tally isn’t the only robot in the store. Earlier this year, the number of U-Scan registers doubled. Now there are as many of them as there are of the traditional checkout lanes. And their increase is a trend that I don’t see slackening.
Another recent innovation that doesn’t involve automation, but still helps to facilitate it, is the rise of the professional shopper. I see more and more of these green t-shirted individuals pushing a cart, while consulting an app. These young contractors will do your shopping for you and deliver it to your door, for a fee. They give an easy out to older luddites who cannot fathom all this progress. At least those luddites who can afford this extra service.
In this vein, the liquor aisle likely accounts for an outsized proportion of the stores revenue, all the while being run by only one employee. This is possible because all the vendors do their own stocking. This model is also used in the bread, chips and snacks aisles. I’m sure that the store would like to see more of their other departments also adopt this sales strategy.
Bottom line our store is continually attempting to diminish their workforce. The fact that it is a union workforce is only icing on management’s cake. Now, I don’t expect that our grocery store will ever get to where many big box retailers are now, manned by only two employees. One tied to the register in front, while the other is tasked with doing everything else or maybe trying to hide in back. Working in retail looks like being perched on a precipice, waiting for the fall.