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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.

National Guard chief says it took 3 hours for Pentagon to grant Jan. 6 request

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, will testify Wednesday that it took three hours and 19 minutes for Pentagon leadership to approve a request for National Guard assistance during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, according to his prepared remarks.

Why it matters: The timeline over when National Guard requests were made and granted has been a key point of contention in congressional hearings examining the security failures surrounding the Capitol riots.

8 mins ago - World

International Criminal Court opens Israel-Palestine war crimes probe

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu has strongly objected to the investigation. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Wednesday announced her intention to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories since 2014.

Why it matters: The investigation is expected to consider possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas during the 2014 war in Gaza, as well as the construction of West Bank settlements by Israel. It could sharply increase tensions between Israel, which fiercely opposes the probe, and Palestinian leaders, who requested it.