Disruptive TechFebruary 24, 2021

Are Retailers Ready for In-store Robots?

Simbe Robotics CEO Brad Bogolea and Retail Expert Carol Spieckerman Weigh In

By GERALD MATIRI | CONTRIBUTING WRITER‍

By now, the majority of consumers have probably encountered some type of robotics in a retail space.

From inventory shelf scanners to Walmart’s automated floor scrubbers, robotics has had a positive impact on reducing menial labor.

At the same time, robotics has also brought fear and insecurity, especially from employees and tech-weary consumers.

Walmart, for example, recently ended its contract with Bossa Nova after it found that human workers could perform about the same amount of work.

Walmart also cited concern about how shoppers reacted to robots doing the work.

On a recent episode of the Retail Rundown Podcast, Brad Bogolea, CEO of Simbe Robotics, sat down with RETHINK Retail Advisor and Industry Influencer Carol Spieckerman to discuss the future of robotics in the retail industry.

Simbe Robotics is the company behind Tally, a stock-taking robot that is popping in grocery stores across the United States.

 

Robotics capture accurate inventory data

 

According to Bogolea, robotics can bring more accuracy to inventory management by helping retailers determine fast-moving and out-of-stock items. Armed this information, retailers can reduce the occurrence of out-of-stock products by 25 to 30%.

 

Tally scans the beauty aisle of a Schnucks grocery store

 

This information is beneficial not only to the retailers but to other companies that provide auxiliary services such as DoorDash, Instacart, or Shipt.

“We’ve seen how much online grocery has increased over the last year,” Bogolea revealed. “And with the instant gratification that shoppers want, it’s presenting the heightened need for more accurate inventory data across these environments and empowering third-party partners.”

Bogolea suggests that by carrying out shelf audits, analytic robots can help stores to adapt to an ever-changing retail landscape.

“Some of the other topics that are starting to come up, especially with a change of administration, are increased labor costs across the environment,” he said. “And what stress that might have on retailers’ overall bottom line. So, we really see automation as a powerful tool that can help enable these retailers to extract more efficiency out of their environment.”

With the ever-rising labor costs in the retail sector, the payroll cost is beginning to impact companies’ bottom line. Robots such as Tally can capture more information than just the inventory and items that are out of stock.

“Tally takes precise store-wide inventory counts on a daily basis,” Bogolea said. “And that data is incredibly helpful for supply chain planning and addressing areas like shrink or goods that may be lost, damaged, stolen, or misplaced.”

Bogolea also said shelf scanning robots are also helpful with tasks like pricing and promotions as they can easily detect promotions that are being incorrectly executed.

 

How robots can help in auto restocking

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a situation where customers were panic buying.

Many products went out of stock and many stores were not aware of the items they had in stock and what was out of stock.

Fortunately, this is another area where robots are helping: accurate data is essential for auto-replenishment.

 

  The eye on the prize for us has not been the Amazon, or the Walmart’s of the world, it has been helping every other retailer in the market really operationalize this technology and transform their business to better compete,” Brad Boglea, CEO of Simbe Robotics

 

Robotics can help to ensure that these types of cases are eradicated. If any products are out of stock, they can be replenished as fast as possible.

“Solutions like Tally find typically five to 15 times more out on shelf scenarios than store teams would over the same period in the various blind studies that we’ve done,” Bogolea revealed.

 

Blending robots with customers and staffs

 

We have already seen how robots can help improve store operations—but the majority of customers only see robots in the movies or have a small robotic cleaner at home.

So, can robotic inventions become part and parcel of the retail industry without impacting the customer experience?

Boglea said yes, but it’s imperative to have a thoughtful approach to introducing in-store robots to consumers. He noted that robots should have slim and narrow intuitive designs that don’t intimidate or interfere with the customer shopping experience.

 

  Automation can be scary or awesome depending on who you ask but at the end of the day, retail will always be about balancing art and science,” Carol Spieckerman, RETHINK Retail Advisor

 

Instead of spending hours taking stock and auditing shelves, staff can now focus on acting on the information provided. They can use the freed-up space to reorder, restock, serve customers directly, or process online orders.

“Store teams that we work with today have really embraced Tally,” Boglea revealed.  The idea of robotics be scary in the beginning, but once the store teams have experienced the product and understand its value, they really view it as a power tool.”

 

Gabriella Bock contributed to this story.

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