ST. LOUIS (AP) — A leading grocer in the St. Louis area is expanding its partnership with a San Francisco robotics company to place more retail inventory robots into its grocery aisles.
Schnuck Markets is working with the firm Simbe Robotics to roll out the aisle-scanning robots, known as Tally, at four more stores in the next month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Schnucks officials began operating the Tally robots several months ago in Ballwin, Des Peres, Webster Groves and Chesterfield.
"We saw that our out-of-stock positions improved greatly," said Bob Hardester, Schnucks' chief information officer.
The robots will continue working at those stores, in addition to their new presence in Granite City, Twin Oaks, Florissant and Spanish Lake.
The robot moves on a Roomba-looking base while using cameras and sensors to perform inventory checks. The Tally can alert employees when an item needs restocking or if price tags don't match advertisements.
Schnucks is targeting its stores near some of the 16 Shop 'n Save stores that are anticipated to close soon as the former competitor shutters its operations. Shnuck officials said the robots are intended to help manage the new influx of customers.
The grocer also plans to identify seven other stores for a Tally robot installation in the coming months, based on any increased sales volume.
Tally is part of the grocery chain's efforts to collect and utilize more data on shopping habits and inventory. Tally provides data about shelf location and consumer preferences. Schnucks also rolled out a reward app last month that helps track customer shopping habits, while promoting brand loyalty.
Hardester said the company's embrace of the aisle-auditing robots isn't intended to eliminate jobs, adding that every store has a staff member in charge of monitoring inventory.
"They're not being replaced," he said of employees. "It's just making their life more efficient."
However, the union that represents most of Schnucks' employees, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, plans to meet with the grocer's officials soon about the robots.
"If we walk down the road of this new technology, which is great, we just need to make sure we protect those individuals that gave the company the ability to make those advances," Local 655 President David Cook said. "Whenever there's change, there's questions."