In the face of growing competition from e-commerce, brick-and-mortar stores are having to innovate. With lower costs, speed and ease-of-use on their side, online retailers are in prime position to take the lead in the retail world. So, what are stores doing about it?
Early adopters of automation and AI (think computerized check-outs and online product recommendations), retailers have been quick to incorporate new technological innovations into their existing systems and processes.
From customer service to inventory-taking, we take a look at some of the ways robots are helping to extend the shelf life of shops.
The retail robot
In warehouses around the world, robots are already hard at work, busy delivering heavy packages faster and more easily than their human counterparts.
To take just one example, last year Target added autonomous robots created by Symbotic to one of its biggest U.S. distribution centres. Using ledges to travel up and down aisles, the robots can move and track cases autonomously, helping Target retrieve, record and restock items more quickly.
Robots have also been employed in delivery. Amazon famously made their first drone delivery (of a TV streaming stick and bag of popcorn) in the UK in December 2016, and it’s widely recognised that drones will play a key part in retail logistics in the future.
But robots are also making their presence felt in stores. In an increasingly fast-paced, digital world, the quality of customer service can make or break a retail brand. As a result, retailers are turning to robots to assist customers in shops, harnessing big data to provide real-time product information and even offer personalised recommendations.
From welcoming customers and directing them to a requested item to offering a checkout-free experience, the potential for service robots at all stages of the physical retail cycle is endless.
Time to start taking stock
Another area of retail that’s embracing automation is stock control and inventory. Over the last year, new RFID technology and a growing need to streamline and automate inventorying has pushed the issue to the fore – and PAL Robotics’ StockBot may be the solution.
Over-stretched retail staff struggle to find the time to perform regular inventories, particularly in chains with multiple stores spread across countries or even continents. This leaves retailers in the precarious position of not knowing exactly what they have in each store – or whereabouts in the store their products are.
According to a report by Supply Chain Digest, the out-of-stock rate experienced by consumers is 17.8% – that means close to 18 customers out of 100 are leaving stores unsatisfied. Keeping track of stock can be a major headache for retailers, but luckily it’s an issue robotic platforms, like Stockbot, are ready and waiting to assist with.
Benefits of automated inventory
The benefits of automation are exponential. Employing a robot to undertake inventory not only streamlines and speeds up the process, it also results in a more accurate picture of misplaced, lost and stolen items – and frees up staff to attend to customers.
In a pilot undertaken in a 1500m2 store, StockBot reduced the time it took to perform a full inventory by 80% (from five hours to one hour), with an accuracy of 99.10%. Thanks to RFID sensors, an autonomous mobile base and a pioneering combination of lasers and cameras, Stockbot is cheaper, faster and more accurate than a human performing the same task.
Importantly, automated inventory also means automated data capture. Collecting data on a daily basis has the potential to transform a business. Big data can provide retailers with a better understanding of shoppers’ habits and trends, as well as enabling data-driven strategies and more accurate long-term forecasts.
With 12 hours continuous battery life and full autonomous capabilities, StockBot can be deployed overnight so that retailers wake up to a full report – with the items’ positions – in their inbox before 9am. Imagine waking up to coffee, croissants and captured data – the perfect combination.
StockBot at the ready
Robots have the potential to revolutionise all areas of retail, and have been doing so for the last few years. From customer service to logistics, robotic platforms have been transforming the way retailers sell their products. Now, it’s the turn of the stock-taking bot.
If you’re interested in finding out how StockBot could help your business, we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.