At Walmart Inc., the robots are losing their jobs.
The retailer is phasing out the hulking automated pickup towers that were erected in more than 1,500 stores to dispense online orders. The decision reflects a growing focus on curbside pickup services that have become more popular during the Covid-19 pandemic and continues a broader retreat from some initiatives to use highly visible automation in stores.
Over the past year Walmart has started to remove or turn off the 17-foot-tall machines often placed at the front of stores. About 300 machines are being removed from stores, and around 1,300 “hibernated” while Walmart focuses on other services, said Larry Blue, chief executive of Bell & Howell, a Durham, N.C.-based automation services company that installed and maintains the devices for the retailer.
“The customer told us they want one pickup spot, and they want that pickup spot to be…