June 13, 2024
retail robots

Retail Robots Are Revolutionizing Brick-and-Mortar Shopping

Overview of Retail Robots

Retail robots are autonomous robots that are designed to assist customers and perform tasks in retail stores. These robots utilize technologies such as artificial intelligence, computer vision, and navigation systems to perform basic functions independently without constant human supervision. Some common types of retail robots include mobile robots that interact with customers, stationary robots that scan shelves for inventory, delivery robots that transport items within stores, and collaborative robots that can work alongside human employees.

Customer Service Robots

One of the primary applications of Retail Robots  is to act as customer service representatives in stores. These robots are mobile and equipped with cameras, microphones, and screens to see, hear, and communicate with customers. They can provide directions inside large stores, answer basic questions about products and pricing, and even conduct basic product demonstrations. Customers have interacted positively with retail robots during early pilot programs due to their interactive touchscreens and charming personalities programmed by designers. Customer service robots are especially useful in 24-hour stores as they operate continuously without breaks and can address basic customer needs even when no employees are present on the floor.

Inventory Management Robots

Another major function of retail robots is to automate inventory management tasks. Stationary shelf-scanning robots equipped with cameras autonomously traverse aisles and scan barcodes on products to provide real-time updates on stock levels, expired goods, and items needing restocking. This allows managers to proactively reorder items before running out of stock and minimize expired goods taking up shelf space. Inventory robots help retail associates focus less on manual inventory counting and more on responsive restocking. Their AI capabilities also allow them to detect misplaced items on shelves and alert staff. This helps maintain better organization and improves the overall customer shopping experience.

Delivery Robots boost Backroom Productivity

In large retail stores, a significant amount of labor is spent transporting goods from backrooms to sales floors for restocking. Delivery robots help automate this process and improve backroom productivity. These robots can load shelves, retrieve items from storage for online orders, and transport boxes of products autonomously within the store. They navigate safely around employees, use elevator systems, and precisely locate shelving areas to deliver items. This streamlines the traditional manual restocking process, prevents injury due to heavy lifting, and frees up staff for more complex tasks that require human skills like facing shelves. Several major retailers are piloting delivery robots to boost productivity during busy periods and reduce employee workloads over time.

Collaborative Robots Assist Employees

Collaborative robots, or cobots, are designed to work directly alongside human employees. Instead of fully automating tasks, they augment the existing workforce. For example, some apparel retailers are deploying cobots to assist employees in folding piles of clothing correctly and uniformly. This allows employees to focus on customer interactions while manual folding work is partially automated. Other cobots lift boxes and assist with unpacking deliveries. Their cooperation with humans makes work safer, less strenuous, and more efficient overall. As collaborative robots get smarter, they will gradually be able to perform more complex physical tasks currently handled by multiple employees.

Impact on In-Store Employment

While retail robots bring a variety of operational benefits, their increased adoption also poses challenges for traditional in-store employment models. As robots take over routine physical tasks and basic customer service duties, some existing roles traditionally performed by humans may become redundant over time. Cashier positions are especially at risk as self-checkout stations become more prevalent. However, robots are not capable of completely replacing all human jobs in retail that require creative problem-solving, leadership, personal consultation, or work involving complex social interactions. Successful retailers will retrain impacted employees to fill new roles overseeing robot systems, helping customers with sophisticated purchases, managing online order fulfillment with robots, and other reimagined jobs focused less on manual labor. With adaptation, retail employment can transition from low-skilled physical work toward more fulfilling careers utilizing human strengths that robots cannot match.

Security and Safety Concerns

Like all emerging technologies, retail robots present some security and safety considerations that still require attention. Although their autonomy aims to safely navigate stores, accidents could potentially occur from collisions with people or failure to properly identify obstacles. Technical malfunctions could cause robots to behave unpredictably. Stricter safety protocols and redundant systems will become necessary as more human-robot collaboration increases. From a security perspective, hackers may attempt to infiltrate unprotected robot systems and use them to steal data or even physical items they transport. Retailers will need to prioritize cybersecurity safeguards for their robot fleets. Overall, as researchers and developers address these concerns, consumer trust and acceptance of friendly in-store robots remain high due to the intended benefits of improved customer experiences and store operations.

Future Advancements and Applications

Looking ahead, the future of retail robots is very promising as artificial intelligence capabilities continue to progress rapidly. Advanced machine learning algorithms will allow robots to evolve beyond scripted behaviors and develop more flexible, human-like interactions tailored to each customer. Future generations of robots may be able to seamlessly hold natural conversations, understand body language and emotions, and provide highly personalized shopping guidance and recommendations. Delivery robots will gain enhanced motor functions like the ability to safely access all areas of stores including stairs. Computer vision and sensor fusion will see robots performing complex tasks like price checks, light cleaning duties, and basic product assembly or customization. Ultimately, humans and robots will form highly synergistic retail teams, with each focusing on the aspects of the job suited to their inherent strengths for optimized business results and customer satisfaction. The most innovative retailers will undoubtedly lead the implementations of this exciting new robotic workforce.

Retail robots are revolutionizing the brick-and-mortar shopping experience by automating routine tasks and enhancing customer service. Their various applications ranging from inventory scanning to deliveries are bringing operational efficiencies while freeing up employees for more engaging roles. While job disruptions remain a concern, successful retailers will proactively retrain workers and reimagine positions. With ongoing improvements, retail robots have tremendous potential to fundamentally change the future of shopping both in stores and online through human-robot collaboration. Overall, retailers that implement robotics strategically and address emerging challenges are well-poised to thrive in the competitive retail landscape of tomorrow.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it