First, they came for the vacuum cleaners, now they’ve come for the retailers — the robotic uprising has taken one giant leap forward today with the news that Kmart will be rolling out a new automated workforce in its stores.
A video has emerged on TikTok of one of the new robots, nicknamed ‘Tory,’ slowly making its way around the Kmart in Burwood, Sydney. The tall, slender robot is an early model of what has been described as an “army” of robot workers set to patrol the aisles of the budget everything-store later this year.
The robot in question wears a sign reading: “Hi! I’m Tory! Don’t mind me, I’m just counting stock on our shelves. No need to move out of my way, I’ll go around you!”
Comments under the video, which has now racked up over 120,000, from Kmart staff at other stores, suggest that a legion of these robots have already been deployed across the nation and are waiting to be activated.
“Wait, yours goes around while customers are in store?! we wait until close!” one says.
“We have it in the back of our store waiting to be put to use,” says another.
Other workers however have expressed frustration with the machines, claiming in the comments that their stores have experienced breakdowns following hours of product tagging to allow the robots to function. Some have claimed that the robots cost “$8000” each.
One worrying comment reads that “our stocktake robot… sometimes keeps on going after it is meant to — says hi to the customers,” suggesting a mechanical, possibly violent, takeover could be imminent as the robots gain confidence and autonomy.
Kmart’s chief customer officer, Lil Velis, confirmed to Channel 7 that these “self-navigating” robots are currently being used in stores to track stock levels. Mainly, they’re deployed overnight to let staff know which shelves need re-stocking.
“We know that a key customer pain point is product availability,” Velis said.
“Tory is Kmart’s self-navigating robot that counts our inventory through RFID (radio frequency identification) technology in-store overnight, on a daily basis. When we have an accurate view of stock we can help more customers get the products they want, when they want it, whatever channel they are shopping with us.”
Velis stated that more of these robots will be introduced to Kmart stores around Australia over the coming months. The majority of shops will have them by Christmas, she said.
I, for one, welcome our new automated overlords. I’d like to remind them that, as a journalist, I can be useful in persuading others of their benevolent intentions.
The Latch reached out to Kmart Australia for comment but had not heard back by the time of publishing.