Robots in Retail; Part 1 of series

COSY is…Robotics using computer vision and artificial intelligence for inventory management on the retail floor.

Robots in Retail! What comes to mind? Perhaps you picture famous robots, such as Johnny Five (Short Circuit) or perhaps your memories go back even further to Robot or B9 from Lost in Space. The reality is the technology will be astounding but the actual robots increasingly used in retail will appear fairly mundane. The focus will be on powerful sensors which make the robots powerful allies with the retailers.

COSY Robotics - immersive mapping through robots

Should store employees be worried? Not really. Robots will take over tasks that humans don’t like and seldom perform very well. Need an example? How about inventory management? Perhaps there’s some employee out there that loves to inventory the products on the shelf but I’m skeptical. The power of robots is to perform mundane tasks over and over without variation. Handing inventory management to autonomous robots certainly fits that category.

You may now be thinking that scientists and engineers have developed all of these marvelous robots and they’ll be assigned to mindless tasks. Rosie the Robot (Jetsons) anyone? The answer is yes and no and this is where it gets interesting. Let’s look at some statistics:

  • Inventory checks are supposed to occur routinely – the reality is that they are conducted a few times per year with a 40% error rate
  • Out-of-stock merchandise cost Walmart $3 Billion in 2013
  • NARMS estimates planogram compliance can boost sales by 8%
  • Research by Proctor and Gamble reports that a 10% improvement in planogram compliance can lead to a 1% boost in overall sales

Those are some very big numbers and robots have the potential to improve the outcomes. Planogram compliance will be the subject of a future post if you aren’t familiar with the term or concept. At a market level, many billions of dollars are involved.

But wait…there’s more! Robots will soon be able to create detailed maps of store interiors. These maps can then enable apps to improve the customer experience. Is that a big deal? These statistics from a May 2015 Deloitte report, “Navigating the new Digital Divide” would suggest yes:

  • From 2012 to 2014, digital revenue grew from 14% ($0.33T) to 49% ($1.7T) of in-store retail sales; mobile influence grew from 5% ($0.16T) to 28% ($0.97T)
  • Almost 1/3 of customers say they spend more due to their use of digital while shopping
  • People who use digital while shopping in-store convert at a 20% higher rate
  • Digital influence is expected to grow to 64% in 2015 and is growing faster than retailers can adapt
  • 34% of shoppers are using digital while in the store
  • Shoppers were 29% more likely to make a purchase same day when using social media during the shopping process
  • Shoppers were 4x more likely to spend more or much more on purchases as a result of a digital buying experience
  • Nearly 50% of consumers who received sales associate assistance would prefer a digital alternative
  • 39% of consumers who receive a personalized coupon or promotion spent more

Sounds like a classic win-win-win:

  1. Robots improve quality of work life for employees
  2. Robots drive significant gains for retailers
  3. Robots improve the customer experience

Aside from all of that, robots are cool!