Will Robots Be Running Whole Foods' Warehouses?
If there's one thing Amazon is good at, it's automation.
In case you haven't heard, Amazon has a human-free grocery store. (It's exactly what it sounds like.) So when the online retailer and general Internet behemoth bought Whole Foods earlier this month for a cool $13.7 billion, we couldn't help but wonder what big tech-friendly changes were coming to the national organic-focused market.
Now, Bloomberg has a potential answer: after consulting with industry experts, the newswire predicts Amazon will upend Whole Foods warehouses first, letting go its workers and replacing them with robots that can transport products from shelves onto trucks bound for Whole Foods stores. They're jobs you won't necessarily see go missing, experts told Bloomberg, adding that cashiers should be safe—for now.
Amazon already uses thousands of robots in its own warehouses, so it's easy to see why industry insiders would expect the company to make the same adjustments in its newest venture. According to Bloomberg, Whole Foods has 11 distribution centers in addition to seafood processing plants, kitchens, and bakeries, all of which could presumably be staffed by robotic employees in the near future. "The easiest place for Amazon to bring its expertise to bear is in the warehouses, because that's where Amazon really excels," Gary Hawkins, CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology, told Bloomberg. "If they can reduce costs, they can show that on the store shelves and move Whole Foods away from the Whole Paycheck image."
It's worth noting, as Bloomberg did, that Amazon's robot-friendly policy hasn't necessarily led to a massive workforce reduction. In fact, as of March, Amazon employes some 350,000 workers—43 percent more than last year, the newswire says.
What could be next? Well, remember how we said cashiers' jobs were safe for now? Experts predict they might not be in the future, and posit that robots will eventually enter the grocery stores, scanning shelves for low stock and alerting employees.
At AmazonGo, customers can shop in the store using a special Amazon app, then grab their groceries and go—all without ever stepping into a line to check out. The company said it won't turn Whole Foods into a national version of AmazonGo, but Bloomberg reports that an unnamed source close to Amazon has said the company is considering going cashier-free, as some checkout lines have in other grocery stores, as part of its long-term strategy, too.