Innovations in Retail Robotics: Enhancing Customer and Operational Efficiency

We spoke with Head of Intralogistics & Retail at PAL Robotics, Jordi Pagès, on the importance of omnichannel fulfilment, and visibility of inventory. Jordi comments on Bart De Muynck’s recent article ‘How Real-Time, Item-Level Inventory Visibility Drives Retail to Efficiency’ in TotalRetail, and talks about challenges for retailers, as well as current and future tech innovations, and their anticipated impact for both retailers and consumers. 

Bart De Muynck’s article, ‘How Real-Time, Item-Level Inventory Visibility Drives Retail to Efficiency’ makes the following key points:

  • “For retailers, maintaining margin integrity and ensuring efficient operations in an omnichannel fulfillment environment has become an imperative.”
  • “Many are missing a critical factor in the equation: visibility into inventory at rest. It’s just as important to have visibility into your inventory at rest as it is to have visibility into the inventory when it’s in motion.”
  • “(Retail) systems are missing information provided by item-level visibility, particularly in the world of omnichannel returns management.”
  • “Visibility into inventory at rest can help improve profitability. It helps to reduce overstock as overstocked items tie up capital and warehouse space.”
  • “When employees spend less time searching for products and more time selling with customers on the sales floor, retailers can provide a superior shopping experience while increasing profits.”

Jordi Pagès comments, “Keeping a clear idea of what is in stock is important, otherwise you might think you will find certain items in store, and this may not be true, you may also be exposed to overstocking. In this respect, management of the available space is still very important for retailers.”

“In terms of omnichannel retail – it’s essential to be able to restock to fulfill your stores, to prevent all-round frustration. If the inventory is not visible to all actors in the supply chain, there is the same problem for store workers and for customers. If stock visibility is good, with all teammates able to see views of the store, this will improve customer experience.”

Jordi adds, “The supply chain is also key. For stock in distribution centres – optimising the movements between different distribution centres and storage spaces is very important. If this is not accurate, you create stock movements that are not needed and this has a cost.” 

Challenges: What are some of the challenges and obstacles that retailers face in their operations, and how can robotics help them overcome these challenges?

Jordi tells us, “If retailers already use RFID but with handheld devices – they will still need workers to do the counting. This is dull and repetitive, with associated HR costs – and it may also not be possible to use these teammates in higher value tasks such as customer service. Robots, specifically RFID robots, automate counting, making operations more repetitive and accurate – freeing human workers up for other tasks. Retail robots also gather more data than simply counts.”

How are robots currently being used in the retail industry, and what specific tasks are they being employed for?

Jordi explains, “Currently there are two major use cases in retail robotics – first of all, AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) working in distribution centres for more effective operations. Here, AMRs are performing intralogistics tasks like moving packages from packaging machines to truck load stations or following people assisting them and transporting goods during picking operations. Secondly, robots that are in charge of inventory tracking in stores and warehouses.”

Are there specific areas of retail, such as warehousing or inventory management, where robotics have a strong potential for transformation?

Jordi comments, “RFID robots give more information on the precise position of items, storing the location of every item in the warehouse or in the store, thanks to their AI-based technology. It also makes it easier for personnel to check for errors between physical and RFID inventories, and if an item is missing, it’s possible to track what is missing. RFID robots also adapt their tasks to changes in the environment – we believe all of this is the next major breakthrough in inventory management.”

The future: How do you envision the future of robotics in retail? What emerging technologies or trends do you believe will have the most significant impact?

Jordi comments, “Nowadays there are lots of interesting robotics projects that add value to retail operations. One example is an AMR, helping store workers to refill by delivering stock, to then work together with a mobile manipulator robot, which can place the items to do the refilling. In addition, there are social robots in retail to interact directly with customers, through voice greetings using natural language, and their touchscreens, which can include information on products in the store, surveys or quizzes.”

“Robotic platforms are capable of much more than simply one use case. At this time, many of the robots that work in retail are very specialised – for example, cleaning the floor, taking pictures of shelves, delivering items, etc. However, the new generation of retail robots that we are working on will do much more at the same time – with capabilities such as moving objects and interacting with people. Other potential developments in the industry could include creating a virtual reality environment of the store, or social robots that can make recommendations to customers, for a personalised shopping experience.” 

How do robots enhance the customer experience in retail stores? What advantages do they offer in terms of convenience, and personalisation?

Jordi comments, “The advantages here are more frequent inventories and a more accurate location of the items in store, bringing clear consequences in customer experience. Customers can check to find out if an item is available in-store, and check exactly where the item is in the store. This also helps store workers to prepare click and collect orders for customers.” 

Conclusions: Finally, what are the key takeaways when it comes to the impact of robotics in retail and how can we expect shopping experiences to change?

Jordi says, “For consumers – a greatly improved shopping experience, both for the availability of what they are looking for and for efficiency of online orders – with orders fulfilled faster. Consumers can plan ahead if they like with the data available.”

Jordi adds, “For retailers – optimising costs – by decreasing customer frustration, as well as reducing logistics costs, and increasing efficiency in online orders. In addition to being able to devote more human resources to direct customer service. Another benefit of being able to track where every item is also includes misplaced items – for example, with theft of items – to be able to detect this.”   

How can retailers ensure that they are staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in robotics and technology to remain competitive in the industry?

Jordi concludes, “Visiting international events such as the NRF and Euroshop, where there is the chance to meet with experts directly, and find out about the latest trends and technology is always helpful. As regular participants in the NRF retail shows in New York City, we are always willing to talk with retailers about their business needs. Another way is to follow technology companies, through social media, to be aware of new advances in the field of robotics.” 

We would like to thank Jordi Pagès for taking the time to talk with us. If you would like to learn more about our robots for retail: our inventory tracking robot StockBot, indoor delivery AMR TIAGo Base, take a look at our website to read more. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of experts to ask more about the capabilities of our solutions to improve operations or customer experience in your store. 

If you want to learn more, take a look at PAL Robotics’ blog to keep up with all our news!

PAL Robotics will be attending retail’s big event, the NRF 2024 in New York City in January 2024. Meet our team of experts there at booth 229!



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