DIRE WARNING and SERIOUS CONSUMER ALERT!
The story you are about to read is true. It happened to me this morning and I welcome any reader or legal feedback about this troubling incident. Here’s the bottom line for those of you who skim articles or are in a hurry:
Walmart is testing an unsafe package pickup tower that CRUSHED MY PACKAGE and would not let it go.
This story began earlier today when I visited the friendly – and idle – pair of customer service reps at the local Walmart’s pickup counter. One of the staffers told me to go find a large orange tower to collect my package. Both volunteered that the machine was made in Finland and select Walmart stores were testing them out.
I thought this new system sounded cool but asked the human staffers how they felt about a robot doing their work for them? Neither commented and it is possible neither had formed an opinion one way or the other.
On my way out of the store, I walked up to the hulking orange monolithic self-service kiosk and entered the order number into the illuminated keypad. Within seconds, my package dropped down a shaft onto a metal platform designed to receive it.
“Pretty slick,” I thought, digging in my purse for my cell phone so I could take a couple of photos to write up this new technology. This is when the ordeal began.
I failed to remove the package during the 10 seconds or so it took to take pictures of the brand-new “convenience” technology and the machine’s automatic door began to close.
Wanting more time to take pictures, I pulled the box forward to block the opening, thinking the machine would retract – but it didn’t. Instead, the door kept trying to close, crushing the package over and over and over while the lighted display repeated the blinking error message, “Remove object blocking door.” – with no way to do so.
MY ARM COULD HAVE BEEN CRUSHED OR SEVERED – THIS IS NO JOKE!
I am still shaken to think my arm or fingers could have been pinned under this unyielding, powerful downward door, causing excruciating pain and perhaps loss of my arm – or even death from bleeding out by the time I received medical attention.
Perhaps my reaction sounds alarmist to you who weren’t there – but what if a curious child stuck her/his head inside and the door came down and caused decapitation, separating the head from the body?
None of the three professional, apologetic, and well-intentioned Walmart employees who eventually showed up to help free my package knew how to open the machine and no one was strong enough to lift the robotic door. The machine has no instructions on it and store personnel had not been trained on it. They were mystified and called a higher-level manager for help.
I mentioned to the Walmart employees that the machine would log the transaction as a successful pickup and rob me not only of my time and peace of mind but also of the goods I had bought and paid for.
When I got home, sure enough, a cheerful email from Walmart was waiting in my inbox to report that I had picked up the package.
Immediately, I contacted Walmart customer service by their online Chat service to tell them that the machine would not release my package so I had been unable to collect it, and that I would appreciate a system update so I didn’t lose both my money and the package.
Here is a partial transcript of that conversation between Walmart’s online Chat customer service agent “A” and me, the customer “C:”
C: (Topic) Report a consumer safety issue with trial robotic pick-up tower at Fenton MO store location
A: Hello, I hope you are doing great!
C: Actually, I’m not which is why I’m contacting you.
A: I am very sorry to know it.
C: The [LOCAL WALMART] location is testing a new robotic pick-up tower made in Finland. Are you aware of this device?
A: We are not aware about that, thank you for taking the time to inform us about this incident.
C: When I went to pick up my order # xxx-xxx I wanted to take a picture of the imposing structure because I write articles about future tech. The machine timer started closing the door before I removed the package. I pulled the box halfway out, thinking the door would retract – but it didn’t. Instead, it began to crush the package – over and over.
A: I am reporting this now.
C: Meanwhile, the display said to clear the door obstruction. But there was no way to do this as the package was wedged and still being crushed by the machine door.
I called for help and three employees were unable to unlock the machine. Their badges had no effect when swiped. The machine had no instructions. The staff had not been trained on the machine. The machine had no safety release. The force of the door was so great that one of the strong young men who came to help could not lift it.
Take my advice and send these machines back to Finland. No one bothered to test what happens when the procedure isn’t followed. An assumption was made that all would be well with no provision for Bad Things Happening. I am very upset.
I want to be sure no one is hurt by this dreadful device. And I want an email stating that my order was not delivered. [“A” offered me a full and cheerful refund.]
C: When I left the store, my package was still trapped in the Jaws of Death on the pick-up tower. The Assistant Store Manager said he would call me this afternoon to let me know if the contents are ok. If so, I will accept them. I merely want some tangible record that my order was NOT picked up.
[“A” said s/he could not place any outbound calls but offered another option.]
A: You may call us directly at: 18009666546 Walmart customer care team and we will call the store directly. And we will request the store to update your order as pending for pick up.
It’s been a pleasure assisting you. If you need any help in the future, please, do not hesitate to contact us again. Thank you for contacting Walmart.com and have a great day!
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Follow-up two hours later: The robot’s vendor came after I left the store and released the package. A store manager phoned me to say that the contents are okay and the crushed package is now ready for me to pick up – again. Walmart will give me a $10 gift card for my “inconvenience.”