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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For years, retail has been lurching toward automation. Last week, Walmart took a significant step back.

Why it matters: In a rare win for retail workers, Walmart decided to take shelf-scanning robots out of its stores in favor of humans. But automation is still coming faster for retail jobs than for most other occupations, experts say.

Driving the news: Walmart had deployed 6-foot-tall shelf-scanning bots from Bossa Nova Robotics in 500 of its 4,700 U.S. stores before the retail titan decided to end the contract. The bots' job was to take stock of inventory.

  • Walmart ended its partnership with Bossa Nova because it found that humans could do that job just as well, the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Nassauer reports.
  • Bossa Nova laid off around 50% of its workforce after losing the contract, per Nassauer.

But, but, but: When it comes to retail jobs, "in the longer term and at scale, the economics favor automation," J.P. Gownder, an expert on automation at Forrester, told me a year ago. And he stands by that projection.

  • "There are always bumps along the way in the launch of new technology categories," he says. "There will be vendors who lose big contracts along the way."
  • But Walmart is still rapidly automating other types of jobs at its stores and warehouses. And there are other retail chains, like Schnucks and Giant, that continue to use shelf-scanning bots, Gownder notes.
  • On top of that, social distancing guidelines might make some retailers even more eager to replace human in-store workers with robots, he says.

Go deeper

Nov 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

Touchless travel could threaten airport jobs

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Universal History Archive, Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Air travel is becoming a touchless, self-directed journey, which poses a threat to traditional airport customer service jobs.

Why it matters: Automation and artificial intelligence have long been viewed as a threat to jobs, but the unprecedented disruption COVID-19 is posing to the travel industry could have lasting workforce implications.

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a powerful and potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring an array of hazards, from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten coastal property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Republican-led Pennsylvania court deems mail-in voting law unconstitutional

Workers count ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Hannah Yoon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Republican-led Pennsylvania court on Friday ruled that the state's mail-in voting law is unconstitutional.

Driving the news: Three Republican judges sided with Republican challengers and ruled that no-excuse mail-in voting is prohibited under the state's constitution. Two Democrats on the panel dissented.