Robotics in Retail: How Robotics is Transforming the Future of Retail
Updated: Feb 12, 2021
When the age of industrialization kicked in a couple of centuries ago, peoples lives were disrupted by the speed and efficiency machines brought in. Automation was a concept that then saw more skepticism than trust. Once the phase of digitization was coupled with the industrial revolution, there has been a surge of innovation, cutting-edge technologies and automation techniques being used across industries.
The retail industry has evolved over time and has been subjected to innovation too. With Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics being used in every sector, there is a scope of higher digital transformation in the retail industry.
Robotics has been used in a myriad of industries, however, robotics in retail use us an exciting and upcoming arena. When clubbed with cloud technology and analytics, it can revolutionize the retail value chain. IoT has been used at large in the retail space for procuring and analyzing data. However, the impetus behind growing use of advanced technologies lies in providing better experience to customers. Implementing IoT solutions across the retail sector will propel innovation in and across stores, will help design and deliver offers and promotions based on browsing and purchase history and thus improve the customers’ retail experience. Moreover, increasing penetration of technology across applications like digital signage, payment and supply chain management contributes to the overall growth of the industry.
Robotics in Retail: Using the combined power of multidimensional technologies for the retail space
Robotics, IoT, Artificial Intelligence and advanced data analytics are all intertwined and can be collectively used to develop the retail space. Although experts claim that autonomous and
multi-functional robots can enhance the retail processes, it is necessary to note that it is an amalgamation of 5 technological forces viz., Big Data and Analytics, Mobility and Pervasive Computing, Cloud Computing, Social Media, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics that will enable this. Using innovative methods like RFID tags attached to shelves, products and store layouts can help capture data of customer preferences, movement, purchase decisions and even buying trends.
Smart shelves are a by-product of incorporating IoT in the inventory management sector of the retail industry. Smart shelves facilitate automatic monitoring of inventory and sends alerts to the authorities concerned if a certain item has a low stock or is nearing the expiry date. Similarly, RFID tags attached to products coupled with prescriptive and predictive analytics can help a customer make the most accurate purchasing decisions. These RFID tags can also help store managers to monitor theft and loss of any particular products. Beacons are being used increasingly across the retail space for customer in-store navigation. These devices use low-energy Bluetooth connections to automatically send push notifications to customers, provide them with an engaging experience and even collect customer data like preferred in-store routes and products. This helps retailers to increase customer loyalty and boost sales.
Digital signage solutions are yet another popular technological aid that the retail sector has adopted. Devices like tablet screens, digital-out-of-home applications (DOOH), and other touch-screen digital screens help retailers impress customers and increase sales by publishing ads, promotions, offers and price slashes real-time. This would also help marketers save costs related to traditional print media and push customer engagement to the next level.
Walmart is using shelf-scanning robots to audit its stores. The company says it wants robots to carry out tasks that are “repeatable, predictable, and manual.”
Robots are being used across retail spaces for interacting with customers. The retail-giant Walmart is in the process of testing the robots for the repeatable, predictable and manual tasks across stores. These robots built by Bossa Nova Robotics, are being used to audit the stores and see if they are able to monitor store inventory more cheaply than human workers. Target and Lowe’s have joined the bandwagon by testing robots in their physical stores for performing manual jobs like scanning shelves. Target has been availing the robotic services of the startup SimbeRobotics to scan aisles. This move of increased adoption of technology by big retailers is their attempt to match with the competition posed by the online retail giant Amazon.
Using the technological network to improve the retail scenario
A fleet of robots in retail might provide the necessary hardware and infrastructure for all the front-end operations. Robots can help retailers procure data and provide services. However, once they capture critical customer-specific and store-related data, it is transferred to a cloud space or advanced database systems for storage and analyses. Advanced analytics or in layman terms, mathematical algorithms are put to use to derive insights such as customer preferences and inventory turnover by geography. The centralized cloud system, advanced analytics and some intelligent recommender system can help CPG companies and retailers consolidate data from all geographies to understand customer purchasing behavior better and track real time demands.
Additionally, such insights can help distributors in other retail functions like supply chain management, marketing, and business operations. The online retail giant, Amazon showcases how automation and robotics can be used to create and maintain smart warehouses. Here, robots are employed to transport large number of items through warehouse storage systems in a speedy and effective manner, while maintaining a visibility on the exact location of each product always.
Robotics in retail coupled with all these advanced technologies can help retailers in a variety of operations spread across, customer satisfaction, warehouse maintenance, performing compliance audit checks and even offering personalized recommendations to customers and retailers alike. A lot of companies across the globe have already taken to the concept of using robotics as a service. Besides being a one-time investment, robotics introduces minimal maintenance costs, smarter networks, and advanced skills that are easily upgradable to the retail space. Robotics in retail can be used as a service across multiple business functions thus reducing the average cost of ownership for a retail company. Technologies of the kind of cloud storage and advanced analytics can ensure resource-sharing at further lower costs.
Retailers need to spot jobs that qualify either as manual, mundane, repetitive, or hazardous as these are the ones to be automated using robotics. While a medium-sized retail store can use a robot for basic monitoring and stock assessment on shelves, a retailer of a bigger size can use robots with special abilities like personal customer-interaction through speech, vision and artificial intelligence. The physical-infrastructure cost involved would increase as per the scale of robotics being used. However, the operational cost will be significantly lower as the same software can be scaled across all robots. This will not only help improve productivity but will also enable employees and retail workers to focus on creating value-adding offers for customer service in more innovative ways.