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Why Robots Could Become More Popular at Grocery Stores


More grocery store workers are getting COVID-19, and a few have died from it. Consider them very brave people, if not heroes, as they are on the front line of this pandemic. But one has to wonder what the immediate future holds for people who work in grocery stores, especially those who might elect to make social distancing a mainstay in their lives.

So there is more talk about robots and artificial intelligence (AI) becoming more of a factor in grocery stores. Robots can’t get viruses (human ones, anyway) and don’t have to practice social distancing. They can clean floors, stock shelves and even deliver groceries.

Grocery retailers such as Walmart, Giant Eagle, Stop & Shop and Food Lion were using robots before the coronavirus arrived. But robots have really come in handy during the COVID-19 crisis, considering that many grocers are short of help and robots are almost always able to work. Moving forward, robots and increased automation in grocery and other retail areas will probably become even more popular.

“I strongly believe that the current health crisis will accelerate the adoption of robots in retail,” Steven Keith Platt, research director for the Retail Analytics Council and adjunct professor at Northwestern University, recently told CNN.com. “Short term, this is to address health concerns” of workers and customers, he said. In the long term, robots in stores will stock shelves and prepare food.

According to CNN.com, Brain Corp., which supplies floor-scrubbing robots to grocers, said its robot usage was up 13% jump at stores in March compared to a year ago. Walmart is a large customer of Brain Corp. and will “employ” the company’s robots in 1,860 of its more than 4,700 U.S. stores by the end of 2020. Expect that number to keep growing.