As retailers around the world grapple with inflationary pressure, a Walmart (WMT) executive says technology will play a critical role in helping keep prices low. Suresh Kumar, Walmart’s chief technology officer and chief development officer, said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada that the deployment of technology in-stores, online and throughout the supply chain will be critical for the company, particularly in today’s economic environment. “Our mission is to help people save money so they can live better lives, and technology is not just an important part of that, it is in fact critical,” Kumar said at the 2022 Collision tech conference. “It's a critical enabler of us being able to meet that promise and to be able to fulfill that. Especially in this inflationary environment, it becomes really important to make sure that we can drive efficiencies in our system.” For example, Kumar points to the rollout of Mobius, technology that simulates the process of getting a good from the manufacturer to the Walmart shelf or customer’s home to determine what is the most efficient way to move that product. The company is also working on deploying technology both in-store and online to make shopping more convenient for customers. “We want to make sure technology is there to make the shopping experience as seamless and as friction-free as possible,” he said. As it continues to invest in technology, Walmart is also increasing its presence in Toronto. The retail giant announced in March that it will expand its engineering hub in Toronto, hiring several hundred new workers over the next 12-months. Kumar said the company sees Toronto as being “one of the big tech hubs” for Walmart. “Toronto has got incredible talent,” he said. “There are lots and lots of universities and lots and lots of great talent that’s available within Toronto. And so that’s the reason why we are here… We really want to double down on the investment in Toronto.” Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj. Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.
The CEO of Boston Dynamics says more warehouse operators are considering a robot workforce after COVID-19 exposed health vulnerabilities at logistics hubs. His comments come as Amazon (AMZN) warns it could run out of workers by 2024. “They have almost 100 per cent turn-over in logistics jobs like picking and packing boxes,” Robert Playter told Yahoo Finance Canada at the Collision tech conference in Toronto. “We’ve definitely seen [with] our industrial or warehouse customers [that] interest in robotics has only increased during the pandemic.” Boston Dynamics has shown its “Stretch” robot is smart enough to react to a stack of boxes suddenly falling over, and clean up the mess. The company plans to release a new robot every three-to-five years aimed at mastering a new workplace task. But Playter says the key is Boston Dynamics looks for the sweet spot between what the labour market needs, and what its robots are capable of doing. “The next robot, which we hope will come out in a few years, will probably be pushing in the direction of more dexterous manipulation tasks, perhaps in a manufacturing environment,” he said. Late last year, the Hyundai Motor Company (HYMTF) acquired an 80 per cent stake. Playter says the new majority owner will help commercialize its robots with its expertise in large-scale manufacturing. “They're going to help us create these things more efficiently, and lower the cost,'' he said. “By the end of this year, we'll have about 1,000 robots out with customers. So we're seeing strong interest.” Asked if robots will push human labour out of warehouses, he said, “I think a lot of the manual work will be done by robots. But robots aren't as smart as people yet, and you have to deal with unexpected circumstances.” Playter says he envisions an “up-skilling path” for workers to become robot operators. “The robot, its intelligence, handles a lot of the complexities. You just give it very high-level commands about what to do, sort of point it in a direction, or lay down a route. And it will autonomously do that work on its own,” he said. “It won’t take a college degree to operate them.” Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist. Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.
At 22 years old, Michele Romanow, now chief executive officer of investment firm Clearco, was running a caviar brand – selling what she has called one of the “world’s most unnecessary luxury products” – when the Great Recession hit in 2008. “I had done all this planning for a caviar business… and then it was like, ‘Okay wait a second. The market is not going to want this’,” Romanow said at an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada at the 2022 Collision Conference. “I had to say, look, no one is going to buy caviar. I’m going to have to figure out something else.” Romanow had to shut down that business, but she said it taught her that the companies that are able to change and adapt the fastest to changing market conditions are the ones that will ultimately succeed. It’s a lesson that may prove useful to entrepreneurs in 2022 who are facing an economy that includes persistently high inflation, rapidly rising interest rates, and ongoing geopolitical tensions that have created worldwide impacts. Romanow says while it may seem like a “super scary environment”, there are opportunities to build great companies through challenging times. “My advice is remember that great companies were built during recessions,” she said. “Uber, Airbnb, Groupon all came out of the last recession. So it’s actually a really good time to build, it’s just a time where you’re going to have to think about doing a lot more with a lot less.” Romanow says in recessions the cost of talent and goods typically declines, making it possible to build at a lower cost. She also points to other funding opportunities, such as partnering with private equity firms, that could open up in a downturn as the amount of venture capital dollars available declines. Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj. Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.