All eyes on googly eyes: Stop & Shop’s robotic worker, Marty, draws attention

  • Marty the robot, an automaton that alerts employees to spills and other hazards, roams the aisles of the Northampton Stop & Shop. Marty has been rolled out in just over 100 Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, including the supermarket chain’s three Hampshire County locations.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

  • “Marty the robot,” an automaton that alerts employees of spills and other hazards, roams the aisles of the Northampton Stop & Shop. Marty has been rolled out in just over 100 Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, including the supermarket chain’s three Hampshire County locations.  STAFF PHOTO/JACQUELYN VOGHEL

Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2019 3:51:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — There’s a new employee at Stop & Shop stores, and its name is Marty. Tall, gray and googly-eyed, the robotic worker has stirred a variety of reactions in customers, ranging from anxiety to amusement.

Marty has been deployed at “just over 100 stores in Massachusetts,” according to Jennifer Brogan, director of external communications and community relations at Stop & Shop — including the chain’s three Hampshire County locations in Northampton, Hadley and Belchertown. 

The automaton roams store aisles in search of spills and other tripping hazards using a camera, Brogan said, then alerts employees of the problem. 

Last week, customers in Northampton voiced mixed emotions about Marty, which first appeared in stores in January. 

The robotic arrival “doesn’t bother me,” said Kirstin Losert, of Northampton, noting that she lives in a smart house where “my Alexa controls everything.” 

But other customers, such as John Lyons, of Leeds, see Marty as an unsettling sign of the times.

“We become more and more accepting of artificial intelligence, and who knows what can happen?” Lyons wondered aloud.

Marty also has sparked conversation on social media — on the Belchertown Community Forum Facebook page, one post about Marty inspired a thread containing almost 150 comments as of Wednesday.

While some people are getting a kick out of the novelty of Marty, others are concerned that a robot is a symptom of a larger trend toward robots replacing human workers. 

“I think anything robotic like that is a threat to anyone’s job,” said Penny Ford, of Hatfield, while shopping at the Northampton store last week. 

Tyrone Housey, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459, said that Marty makes him uneasy, along with increased usage of self-checkout registers and carousel bagging stations in what he sees as the company moving toward automation. 

“Number one, we’re not sure of its capabilities,” Housey said of Marty, adding that he is concerned the robot may be technologically advanced enough to eventually carry out other tasks, such as inventory. 

Union employees are currently in negotiations with Stop & Shop after the local branch voted to authorize a strike last month, citing concerns such as wage cuts and increased spending on automation.

According to Brogan — who refers to Marty as “he,” while Housey calls the robot  “it” — Marty is “not at all” set to eliminate jobs, but will create a safer store environment and free up associates’ time, allowing them to dedicate more attention to customers.

“Marty doesn’t actually clean things — he just notifies our associates, so, no, there’s no impact to jobs,” Brogan said. “Nor is he intended in any way to replace associates.”

The company has no plans to expand Marty’s functionality, Brogan added. It will expand the robot’s presence throughout the year.

Sky Agnitti, of Northampton, observed that Marty has “sadly” become useful in today’s world, where he said people are more likely to be distracted by a cell phone or reluctant to talk to others. 

“People are oblivious,” Agnitti said, adding that he has noticed customers walk by broken glass on the floor rather than alert an employee of the hazard.

“I don’t think (Marty) is going to put anyone out of a job,” he said, “because someone still needs to show up with a mop and clean the spill.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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