Friday, May 24, 2024

Robots in the World of Retailers

Before we dive into how robots have managed to secure a slot in the world of retailers, let us first note some key points that led to this undertaking. The growing number of robotic retail outlets are embracing the first customer touch point due to robots. The innovative drive and charm that the robots posses are fueling their infusion to the Retail Value Chain stages leading to a new sustainability growth curve. Thus the comfort of the robots in the retail sector is also an opportunity to enhance customer engagement with the robotic products if they embrace and intermingle with Machine Learning, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence. The article thus takes a glimpse of the robotic journey in the retail world.

Retailing Robotization Brief

The robots of today will bring a multidimensional impact to the retail world if stemmed from Cloud and Analytics as the integrated digital elements. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) claim a target estimate of $87 Billion towards the 2025 calendar year as a tribute to the global robotics market. Half of which will be under consumption in the retail world. This news, however, should not be jaw-dropping for the retail market has a reputation for adopting advanced technologies.

Automation is not a guest to this world and continues to be a master contributor of efficiencies in the Retail Supply Chains. Automation should, however, not get too comfortable as the journey is slowly getting bumpy. The warehouse and factory automation are currently under innovative pressure as the e-commerce retailers’ competitive thrusts want to reap from their substantial robotic investments. A case example is evident at Tesco. The entire stores’ inventory scans are possible through RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) robots. These retail robots accomplish this activity in an hour time frame in comparison to the 7-hour time frame that would take the human store employees. Retailers are, however, beginning to realize the need for a holistic and extended innovative approach that ventures beyond the warehouse and supply chain demand.

The Retail Value Chain of Robots

Robots are on the driver seat of innovation. It is evident in customer-facing experiences, sales, marketing, merchandising, store operations, back-office operations, supply chains, and logistics. The systems under development by the Online Retailers have the objective of creating a user-individualized front-end for the customers and a business-centered back-end for the business users.

The ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) level is a victim of concentrated bulk repetitive work. However, an innovative speedup is possible though a stage-by-stage Retail Value Chain infusion of robotics by the CIOs (Chief Infomation Officers). The game-changing role that robots can play will ensure innovative progress. It will be useful in customer path observation and analysis, product picking and delivery, achieving zero-defect logistics, minimization of negative in-store experiences, and the approach for welcoming customers.

Retailing Robotization Trends

We are used to the shouts, “The Robots are Coming!” But now it is no longer the case, not because we have damaged our voice box but because the robots are answering our human prayers. They are now safely packaged in the retail stores on a continuous distribution queue. The sidewalks, the stores, and our home environment will soon have a robotic DNA present, if not already the case. The retailing ecosystem is already experiencing a robotic takeover; let us dive in for a closer glimpse.

1. Robotic Delivery Systems

It was just recently that we witnessed the introduction of the Domino’s Pizza DRU Robotic Unit. Its debut as the first robot for home-delivered pizza. You can picture DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) as a robotic mutation between an oversized microwave and an R2-D2 (an astromech droid).

Such delivery robots benefit from their equipped LIDAR and GPS sensors, which assist them in their navigation. DRU, for instance, has additional temperature sensors to cater for both the hot food and the cold food. The debut of such robotic delivery systems is a big wow to the retail world and especially to the front-end customers.

The DRU is inspiring the entrance of more competitive delivery bots, also seeking to make a name for themselves. Skype founders Ahti Heinla and anus Friis are already the creators of a general-purposed home delivery bot through the Starship Technologies startup. An array of GPS sensors and cameras define the robot. Thus the future delivery robots or those under development are predicted to up their game through microphones, speakers, and AI-driven processing language.

Jiajun Zhu, who is the co-founder of Nuro and also an engineer that helped bring to life the Google’s self-driving car through his work, depicts the future of Robot Delivery Systems. It is confident that these retail robots will incur a significant size reduction over time while carrying more loads or cargo. Some robotic deliveries are already taking flight like the case of Rwanda.

Technology Brief: The idea here is to have a robotic system that is efficiently time conscious, has a bit of social intelligence to be able to interact with the customers, and calculating so as not to re-encounter human errors.

2. In-Store Robots

Now that the delivery robots have spared us the unnecessary trips to the store, we also have to consider the customers that still crave for the old-fashioned in-person shopping and social experience through robots.

A case example would be the introduction of the humanoid robot, Pepper, by SoftBank. It has the emotional quotient of comprehending human emotions. For such a robot to be effective in its functional objective, it had to have a ‘cute’ sentiment imprinted in its design layout. Its mermaid-tail-shaped base, a dark-slashed mouth, a pair of black eyes, a white plastic body, and 4 feet tall height did the trick. With its sale exceeding 12,000, its functional application is yet to reach its limit. You will find it at the Palo Alto Electronics store in California dancing with customers, greeting diner customers at Singapore’s Pizza Hut, and serving ice cream in Japan.

Even Walmart makes use of its capabilities to shelf-stock and, thus, a competent employee when considering inventory control. A 24/7 select operational sales location now breathes life through Robo-cashiers like the case of Best-Buy. Moreover, customers can now query target items while simultaneously keeping track of the existing inventory records through such in-store robots.

Technology Brief: This technology seeks to attain excellency and proficiency in work ethics, organization skills, and record keeping. It seeks to embrace full automation without the aid of a human presence. These robots also excel in their social skills.

3. Warehouse Bots

In-Warehouse logistics is probably in the Hall of Fame under the category of most significant robotic benefits brought to life. A case example takes us back to the 2012 calendar, where Amazon served a $775 million offer for now famed Kiva Systems. Six years down the line, the unpredictable happened. It witnessed the deployment of 45,000 Kiva robots at multiple fulfillment centers whose productive output during that Chrismas season was a whopping 306 items processed per second. The scenario created a robotic retail apocalypse that saw many retailers following suit.

Technology Brief: The trending robotic retail idea here is all about democratization. Giving the robots their free will the same way we have ours. These robots are the heavy lifters that deal with the mammoth-sized products our human muscles cannot comprehend. If we achieve this objective, then we will be speaking in tongues in an attempt to express the miracles we will be witnessing from these warehouse bots.

Retail Robotization Implementation Examples on the 2019 Calendar

What better way to experience the working examples of retail robotization trends than through events like the yearly CES (Consumer Electronic Shows). CTA (Consumer Technology Association) is the organizer of this electronic-genes event. Such an event is usually an inspiration for the upcoming robotization junkies in the making. Here you might not find trending retail robots but the inspirational bots from the robotic retailers. Mixing robotization with trend should yield examples like the following:

1. Lowe’s LoweBot

One way for a retailer to plan and test the effectiveness and efficiency of robots in stores is how effectively they can assist a customer in locating searched goods quickly. It is through looking up product information through an inventory record. The LoweBot made its debut in 2016 to retail stores as a test module as it matured in its functional application delivery over time.

Technology Summary:

A customer will interact with the LoweBot, either verbally or non-verbally, through a present touch screen. The queries can involve questions like where to locate a specific item on the store. The robot is also open to inquiries related to customer service, which would then relay to a human worker for a logical answer. The gathering of such information by LoweBot during its operational time frame will help create reference data concerning the customers’ shopping patterns. The retailer will thus be able to note and restock the stores’ shelves visited more often than the others. Knowing what commodity moves faster will also assist in the future planning of the merchandise — thus deciding whether it should be plenty depending on the season.

Moreover, the robot can sense the presence of a customer and greet them in advance. The shopper can have a sample of the item required in the store like a spare part. The robot is equipped with a camera to take a snapshot of this item in question. If it can visually identify the item, it will lead the customer to its location in the store.

2. Best Buy’s Chloe Robot

Not all retail robots are free to move around. Through a collaboration with PaR Systems, Best Buy consumer electronics retailer introduced Chloe. The automated robotic system’s primary function is to fetch the needed products from a store’s shelves. 2015 saw the launch of its testing phase in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Technology Summary: A built robotic arm on a chassis characterizes Chloe. It can navigate through a store’s shelves from a stationary and clear partition area. A touch screen is available for customers to utilize and request the items or accessories they wish to acquire. The arm will then navigate within the eyesight of the shoppers and pluck out the required products. Thus a customer does not need an employee to purchase an item if the Chloe system is available. Since its efficiency depends on a vertically shelved store, it can take a floor space of up to 1,000 sq. Ft. It also refreshes its inventory through tracking shopping trends.

3. DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) Delivery Robot

Domino started as a quick-serve fast-food chain before it realized that not all customers are willing to step on the gas peddle to get to them. The debut of the DRU came to light in March 2016 as a driverless vehicle prototype to facilitate the delivery of pizzas in Australia. Before its onset, Domino had a handful of GPS data acquired through the years of serving its human driver customers. Combining this data with an automated automobile became a genius idea for the delivery rounds. The exciting technology is still under development and will even need to pass some regulatory tests before DRU is free to roam the streets. The DRU division is also seeking an air delivery approach through drone technologies. The onset of last November saw an aerial DRU Drone make the first-ever Domino’s food delivery in New Zealand.

Technology Summary: As DRU awaits to be a regular service, We cannot quantify the gains it will bring to the table but only speculate. Hence Domino’s profile now has both the aerial and ground-based DRU vehicles waiting for the limelight. Its partnership with Starship Technologies is in a bid to target the European markets through the introduction of the service robots. This partnership presents both a room for testing and an opportunity to learn from the Starship Technologies.

Retail Robots Development Forecasts

Regardless of the absence of specific data relating to ROI (Run On Investment) for the current retail robot implementation trials by firms, a forecast trend is easy to spot through the machine learning robotics applications. We can conclude the following:

  • The Need to Draw Customer Attention: Since the retail robots are currently finding their innovative strides in the human population, human customers will be testing their uniqueness through anxious stares. The anticipation will become a boost to the technology’s quick adoption and hype. However, for it to make an industrial standard mileage, it will have to adapt, edit, and perfect the business practice rules like those of the retail giants like Wal-Mart and McDonalds.
  • Storage Space Improvement: Narrower aisles will take effect in warehouses; hence the availed retail space is utilized more effectively. Vertical space will also allow room for more storage space. It will, however, make it difficult for the human sales personnel to carry out necessary inspections.
  • Inventory Tracking: Human errors relating to misplaced items will no longer be a problem if the robots carry out the shelving of the necessary accessories. Misplaced items will be easy to retrieve, and sales records will not get lost easily.
  • Product Retrieval for Awaiting Customers: No customer will have to suffer through a waiting queue to receive a previously requested item. Moreover, there will be no more waiting for a free member of staff to offer assistance. The robots will be swift and effective time managers.

With all the excitement of adding the retail robots into the human fold, the human-robot interaction will remain the key focus to achieve the desired mileage of consistent customer experience. They are the essential topics that businesses and governments will be keen to investigate. This paragraph sums up the robotic retail re-tale.

Teodora Torrendo
Teodora Torrendo
Teodora Torrendo is an investigative journalist and is a correspondent for European Union. She is based in Zurich in Switzerland and her field of work include covering human rights violations which take place in the various countries in and outside Europe. She also reports about the political situation in European Union. She has worked with some reputed companies in Europe and is currently contributing to USA News as a freelance journalist. As someone who has a Masters’ degree in Human Rights she also delivers lectures on Intercultural Management to students of Human Rights. She is also an authority on the Arab world politics and their diversity.

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