The more technology advances, the more it’s integrated into every part of our everyday life. You might have found this article by asking your Google Assistant for the latest grocery trends or have stumbled upon it while scrolling your Facebook feed, for example.
But in the last couple of years, technology and robots, in particular, have been taking over your grocery shopping as well. Grocers are using technology to fix everything from warehouse logistics to grocery delivery.
Lately, these robots have found their way right into your shopping aisles, picking up tedious work from busy grocery store associates. What are they doing? Everything from monitoring inventory to cleaning the floors.
And if you’re worried that they might be replacing humans and taking over their jobs, executives from big companies are reassuring. According to Walmart: “These innovations allow our associates more time to focus on serving the customer, the technology is used to complete those repetitive and mundane tasks like cleaning floors, checking inventory, price changes, unloading trucks and tasks that simply take time.”
Why robots? Top 3 problems grocers are trying to solve with in-store robots
- Inventory management. It seems that many retailers are facing the same issues. Once the product has entered the store, there is no easy way to track where it is. Is it still in the warehouse or is it on the shelf? Did someone already purchase the product or did it get stolen?
- Gain insights into customer behaviour and product trends. By tracking which products are out of stock grocers can better attend to their customers. There is nothing worse than a customer wanting to buy a product and staring at an empty spot on the shelf.
- Detect spills and other hazards. Associates are trying to juggle a lot of different tasks throughout their shift. Detecting spills and quickly fixing issues throughout the store is made easier when there are robots around to notify them.
How do in-store robots work (and see)?
The technology behind these powerful robots is similar to the one in driverless vehicles and face recognition. First, you need to teach the robots to recognize the products using deep learning; second, you need to make sure that it actually identifies the item on the shelf correctly.
Companies such as Simbe Robotics are offering partial solutions to accommodate those who are not ready to buy the robot themselves but still want the insights that robots provide.
In this blog post, we’ve summed up the experience from 5 grocers who have already put these in-store robots to the test.
1. Giant Eagle
Giant Eagle is testing Tally from Simbe Robotics to solve inventory management issues and glean into the insights on customer behaviour and product trends.
Tally is able to recognize inventory and send valuable messages to store associates to reduce out of stocks and boost performance thanks to machine vision and RFID readers.
Walmart started testing 50 robots in 2017 and recently have added 300 more. Clearly, they are seeing some success.
Their autonomous robots roam up and down store aisles, checking for pricing issues, out-of-stocks, and shelf irregularities.
3. Stop & Shop
This googly little fellow is called Marty and his job is to detect spills and other hazards. It even wears an explanation “around his neck” to make sure worried customers know he’s friendly.
Woolworths in Australia has also tried to detect spills and other hazards by using in-store robots.
There is not much information about how the test went or whether they will continue to use it. But, one thing is sure – robots are going global.
Schnucks has seen a great deal of success and is pleased with the results they are getting from Simbe Robotics’ Tally devices. They will soon announce plans to scale to new stores in the near future.
They even went and named the impact that Tally makes in store as “The Tally Effect” which stands for “full shelves, organized & looking great.”
Bonus robot from Lowe’s
Ok, so this one is not a grocery robot but is still worth mentioning here. Lowebot is helping people furnish and decorate their homes. It follows customers and answers questions along the way. It boasts it can speak multiple languages and is capable of multitasking – while it’s helping people locate the items they need, it also tracks inventory.
But can you guess the most frequently asked question? It’s “Where is the restroom?”
As the grocery market becomes more competitive, grocers are under pressure to innovate and introduce new technology faster than ever. Since in-store purchase still accounts for around 95% of grocery sales, the prize to be gained from effective in-store tech is very appealing.