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Marty the robot Non-essential worker

Grocery shopping in 2020 is an emotional roller coaster.

After strapping on your mask and thoroughly sanitizing your cart, you plot out the quickest, most efficient way to navigate the store, grab your items, and get out. Every surface looms like a germ-covered threat, you hold your breath when people pass, and you go to great lengths to ensure you don’t get too close to fellow shoppers — exchanging pointed, disapproving glances the second someone disregards the one-way aisle arrow.

No matter how careful you are, maintaining distance from your fellow shoppers isn’t always possible. And an incessantly beeping 140-pound hunk of plastic and metal with googly eyes hovering by your side and blocking the aisles certainly doesn’t make things easier.

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The coronavirus pandemic has proven unequivocally that human grocery workers are essential, but it’s also made it plainly clear that Marty the grocery store robot(opens in a new tab) is the opposite of essential.

Marty was introduced by Ahold Delhaize, Stop & Shop’s Netherlands-based parent company. They put these robots, which cost a whopping $35,000 each, in hundreds of Stop & Shops and other stores (opens in a new tab)throughout the U.S. in 2019. The robots have been a source of problems since their arrival(opens in a new tab), but as the pandemic has reshaped the shopping experience complaints that Marty prevents proper social distancing(opens in a new tab) have started to pop up.

When states began issuing stay-at-home orders in March, panicked shoppers flooded stores to stock up on supplies. The robots were initially pulled off the floors to prioritize customer safety, but then gradually reintroduced over the next two months. Though all robots have been fully operational since late May, customers and workers alike feel that Marty has been, at best, completely useless during the pandemic or, at worst, has made shopping and working significantly harder.

Stop & Shop has marketed the robots as in-store safety devices. (They’re meant to detect and report hazards on the floor, but they can’t actually remove them.) So if an autonomous robot can’t help shoppers or frontline workers in the middle of a crisis, what’s the point?

As grocery workers continue to fight for hazard pay and risk coronavirus exposure on the job, they’re calling on their company and their customers to recognize that human contributions in this pandemic have far outweighed the contributions of grocery store robots like Marty.

Marty robots were rolled out last year after Stop & Shop cut back on staffing and made their financial problems clear(opens in a new tab). This led workers to fear future tech-related job elimination. While some tech-dazzled adults and impressionable children do find Marty fascinating or charming, shoppers and employees have largely come to see the robot as more of a problem than a problem solver.

“He’s a pain in the ass,” said Don, a Stop & Shop employee who’s been with the company for more than 30 years. (Don asked to withhold his last name for privacy reasons.) “That’s not my perspective, it’s everybody for the most part. Customers cannot stand him. He’s always in the way… I even hear managers complaining about what a pain in the neck it is, but they have to play along. They have no choice.”


Joe, who’s also been working at Stop & Shop for more than 30 years, told Mashable that sometimes the robot even has trouble doing his one extremely simple job. (Joe also asked to withhold his last name for privacy concerns.)

“We had a shopper pick up a thing of sugar. And the bag had a hole in it so the sugar got all over the floor, but you can’t see it. Marty walked right through it and never said a word. A customer pointed it out to us,” Joe explained. “You know how slippery [sugar] is on those wax floors?”

Joe noted that although Marty misses major hazards, the robot will occasionally summon workers to remove extremely small, inconsequential threats, such as a marker, an errant bit of produce, or a twist tie.