AWM, in Aliso Viejo, Calif., Provides retailers with sophisticated overhead cameras that can track employees and customers as they walk through stores and spot products, even down to Red Delicious versus gala apples. Kevin Howard, chief executive, said the company could cut store fulfillment costs by 60 percent by, for example, immediately marking out-of-stock goods and directing pickers to the correct items, even if they’ve been moved or misplaced.

“We dictate each aisle they should go into because we know which product is in which aisle, and then visually dictate the actual gondola, shelf, and shelf area where that product is located in real time Said Mr. Howard.

AWM also helps retailers “keep track of who is productive and who is not,” said Howard. “If they were walking down the assembly aisle and it took 12 minutes and the average order picker takes four, how can we make sure we are helping them get the number four? Sometimes you don’t know what the product is – with us it’s usually personal time on your cell phones. “

Food picking supervision affects some labor experts.

“Any of those systems that say, ‘Choose this now, choose this next,’ are tracking you by default,” Tilly said. “They all have clocks attached to them, so it tracks you and monitors your pace. That means, if the order turns out to be faulty, they know who did it. “

While the technology was not designed primarily for surveillance, “it is not difficult to be tempted to monitor and use it for disciplinary purposes,” said Françoise Carré, research director for the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts -Boston McCormack Graduate School, which also studied how technology is transforming retail jobs.

Noell Marion, an employee at Mariano’s, another grocery chain owned by Kroger, started working through Instacart in Skokie, Illinois in 2019. Ms. Marion, 53, said that as a designated “veteran,” she was 72 seconds for each item.

“That includes going through the store, fetching the item, getting it scanned, going through the checkout and putting it in the limelight and getting it ready for delivery,” she said, adding, “It was never considered whether you have to stand in line for something when the shop was full. “

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