KEY POINTS

  • Bossa Nova robots were used by Walmart for inventory tracking
  • Walmart ended contract after it found simpler solutions to inventory issues
  • Bossa Nova Robotics laid off 50% staff after partnership ended: Report

Walmart (WMT) has retired robots working in about 500 stores as it found "simpler solutions" to inventory management. The retail giant said it ended its five-year partnership with major supplier Bossa Nova Robotics.

Walmart had pushed for automation in its stores for years. The company said in January that Bossa Nova robots would be used in 1,000 of its 4,700 U.S. stores. Walmart had repeatedly said such robots would be ‘sidekicks’ to store workers.

“This was one idea we tried in roughly 500 stores, just as we are trying other ideas in additional stores. We will continue to test new technologies and invest in our processes to best understand and track inventory and help move products to our shelves as quickly as we can,” Walmart said in a statement to Bloomberg.

Bossa Nova’s six-foot-tall 15-camera robots were used by Walmart in its stores to track inventory since 2017. They were also given mundane tasks like loading, unloading and cleaning warehouse floors. Many companies have tested out such technologies, but only Amazon came close to adopting robots in a large scale.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart ended its partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics because it found simpler solutions to inventory issues that proved to be just as useful. Sources told WSJ that Walmart has hired more people working the aisles and the inventory as online orders have picked up amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Walmart’s U.S. chief executive John Furner has also expressed concerns about how customers would react to seeing a robot working in their store, the report said.

Sources told the WSJ that the end of the contract has devastated Bossa Nova, which laid off 50% of its workforce as a result. Walmart reportedly told the robotics company that they did not see “enough of an improvement” with the robots in the store.

A day after announcing a plan to keep guns away from shopping areas, Walmart said Friday it would leave the items on store floors A day after announcing a plan to keep guns away from shopping areas, Walmart said Friday it would leave the items on store floors Photo: AFP / NICHOLAS KAMM