Will the 2020s see the rise of the retail robots?
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Given the current retail landscape, it comes as no surprise that retailers are diversifying their strategies to avoid closings or losing business to online shoppers. At the National Retail Federation’s recent trade show, robots took the spotlight as a solution for retailers looking to improve their inventory management strategies.
Some retailers have already been using robots in their distribution centers, and Walmart has recently adopted these high-tech “employees” as well. What does that mean for the industry, retail workers, and in-store shoppers?
The exhibitors at NRF’s trade show featured a variety of robotics companies, boasting high-tech products with skills such as inventory management, shelf scanning, and floor cleaning. The show happened to coincide with Walmart’s announcement that they would be expanding their use of robots to another 650 stores, bringing the grand total to 1,000. This brought further attention to Bossa Nova, the exhibiting company providing said robots.
Forbes cited Sarjoun Skaff, founder and CEO of Bossa Nova, as he noted that “retailers like Walmart are embracing the robots because it solves stocking problems that have plagued retailers for decades.”
The robots’ capabilities enable them to spot out-of-stock items, misplaced products, and pricing errors.
This ultimately saves employees time; instead of spending an entire shift searching for inventory issues (and then another potential shift correcting them), they are able to immediately target any issues flagged.
Bossa Nova also aims to supply retailers with statistics such as how fast a certain product sells out, or which shelf space produces the highest level of sales. The end goal of robotic retail technology is to let the robots do the counting and data management tasks while giving staff the chance to connect with their customers. As online shopping continues to dominate, bricks-and-mortar ships are eager to provide real connections with a knowledgeable sales staff.
Although robotics in the retail industry is a relatively new concept, there are still some questions that retailers (and even consumers!) may have. Developers and those adopting robotic technologies will have to consider the following:
Now or later: Are retailers immediately jumping on the technology, or will they wait a few years for major kinks to be worked out? There’s a fine line to consider between being first and truly pioneering a technology.
The price of doing business: While major corporations might able to invest in robotics, what about mom-and-pop stores? Will they continue to rely on hourly wage employees? Smaller establishments have just as much, if not more, to gain from a robotics program.
Software malfunctions: We’ve all had our servers go down. Are robots susceptible to this, and will they experience glitches or lose costly data? On a simpler note, what happens if a store’s Wi-Fi is spotty? Retailers would be wise to ensure that all pieces of the technological puzzle are firing on all cylinders.
Working hours: Will robots complete their work when stores have shut down for the day, or is there a place for them to be present during business hours? Curious customers (especially children) might feel the need to approach the robots, resulting in a new level of security required in the store.
Both the retail and technology sectors continue to grow at a rapid pace. While it can be difficult at times to predict which new trends or technologies will catch on, the use of robotics makes a very convincing case for retailers. Worrying about “robots taking over” might pose a fearful thought, but in the decade ahead, they may be just as normalized as online shopping and mobile payments.
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