Walmart's US CEO tells workers not to worry about their jobs despite announcing a major push into store automation

  • Walmart announced this week that 65% of its stores will be "serviced by automation" by 2026.

  • The company's US CEO said that "over time, we believe we'll have the same or more associates."

  • Walmart is the country's largest private employer, with roughly 1.6 million workers in the US.

Walmart will be increasingly relying on automation at its stores in the coming years — but that won't diminish the country's largest private employer's workforce, company leaders said during an investor event this week.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant recently made headlines when it announced that 65% of its stores will be "serviced by automation" by the end of fiscal year 2026. Walmart currently has more than 4,700 stores throughout the US and employs roughly 1.6 million people nationwide.

More specifically, one area where Walmart is seeking to increase investment is in market fulfillment centers (MFCs), which are automated fulfillment centers built within, or added to, a store.  Walmart piloted this concept at a store in Salem, New Jersey, in 2019, using automated robot technology from Alert Innovation — a robotics company Walmart acquired in October 2022.

Since then, Walmart has built MFCs at several stores, such as in Jacksonville, Florida, and Dallas, Texas. Those include "manual MFCs," where associates pick items for online orders but in a separate area from the sales floor.

A Walmart spokesperson did not disclose how many MFCs the company deploys nationwide, but Tom Ward, then Walmart's senior vice president of customer product, said in January 2021 that the company would be scaling the model.

"Instead of an associate walking the store to fulfill an order from our shelves, automated bots retrieve the items from within the fulfillment center," Ward said in a release at the time. "The items are then brought to a picking workstation, where the order can be assembled with speed."

Walmart will still need at least the same level of workers to help in stores even as automation picks up, company leaders say.

John Furner, Walmart US president and CEO, told investors this week that automation "helps" employees, as it will result in less manual labor.

"Over time, we believe we'll have the same or more associates and a larger business overall," Furner said. "There will be new roles emerging that are less manual, better designed to serve customers, and pay more."

The announcement comes as Walmart has doubled down in its commitment to trying to bolster its e-commerce business, which saw as much as a 97% year-over-year growth in the first full quarter of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. E-commerce growth has cooled since, with the most recent quarter yielding a 17% increase in sales.

Still, Walmart is laying off workers at fulfillment centers nationwide. Per Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification (WARN) filings, the retailer is cutting more than 2,000 jobs at e-commerce warehouses in Texas, California, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

"We recently adjusted staffing levels at our fulfillment centers in select markets to better prepare for the future needs of customers," Walmart told Insider in March. "This decision was not made lightly, and we're working closely with affected associates to help them understand what career options may be available at other Walmart locations."

Are you a Walmart worker who has thoughts to share about the automation push? Contact reporter Ben Tobin over email at or on encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 703-498-9171.

Read the original article on Business Insider