Robots in Retail: Welcome to Automation Nation

Robots are an integral part of our lives and most likely already in use at a retail store near you, writes Ottonomy CEO Ritukar Vijay.

According to a recent survey by RetailWire, around 25% of retailers already have in-store robotics in their premises. Almost half say they will “deal” with robotics in the next 18 months. This is part of an emerging trend in retail/robotics, namely robotic applications in customer facing roles.

This trend of integrating robots into customer-facing roles – and into the consumer experience – will transform retail as we know it

The robotic age meets the traditional retail customer

According to Deloitte. . .

— Retailers are expected to ‘accelerate’ adoption of smart robots over the next year.

— By 2025, over 150,000 mobile robots are to be used in stationary retail.

— With the convergence of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and 5G/edge computing, robotics will become larger and “focus on more customer-centric tasks.”

The following roles and responsibilities are high on the list of retailers using robotics in customer facing roles.

Greetings and wayfinding

Big brands like Lowes are already using robotics for these customer-facing services.

Deloitte points out that robots are now being used to greet and assist customers entering a retail store. Responsibilities include directing shoppers to find products in store, engaging with customers in multiple languages, and helping shoppers navigate the store to find products on sale or with discounts that the customer may be interested in knew nothing.

Shop online, pick up in store

Shoppers are increasingly choosing to order products online and then go to the store to collect the products. It allows customers to combine the best of both worlds, shop the entire collection from the comfort of their own home and have it in their hands within 2 hours instead of waiting 2-3 days and avoiding shipping costs. Retailers use robotic parcel systems to order, store and deliver to customers in-store whenever that customer chooses to collect the goods.

Retailers like Zara are using robotics to “option” the consumer checkout and pickup experience, allowing shoppers to intuitively and seamlessly collect products in-store in just minutes, for both in-store team members and customers.

cleaning and maintenance

Shoppers are also employing “robot janitors” to clean up spills and keep store aisles clean. These are highly ‘in-demand’ services that are routinely at the top of retail outlets’ ‘wish lists’.

Walmart, which uses cloud-connected janitorial robots with built-in data analysis capabilities. This allows the robots to scan the store, easily move to a spilled or damaged aisle, clean up the mess without affecting the customers’ shopping experience.

Three factors driving the evolution of retail robotics

The following reasons are driving retailers to use robotic tools to improve customer experience.

To drive innovation into physical stores

Data shows that retail sales on an e-commerce basis accounted for just over 7% in 2015, and that figure peaked at around 20% in 2021 and is expected to rise to almost 25% in 2025.

Given the headwinds of digital commerce — particularly in terms of speed, ease of use, and personalized shopping experiences — robotics offers retailers a great opportunity to deliver unique and enhanced in-store customer experiences, thereby driving millions of shoppers back into malls and into a more customized personal user experience .

Robotics means a big brand investment – ​​and customers are realizing it

In-store robots that interact with customers date back to 2015, when Mitsukoshi, a major Japanese retailer, launched ChihiraAico, the first known humanoid robot.

Fast forward to 2021, when Tokinomo, a developer of robots for the in-store market, had a major impact on store sales through customer interaction.

In particular, Tokinomo’s key feature – placing real robots on store shelves to physically move products forward and make them more noticeable to customers, with humorous audio messages and customer dialogue added to the mix – was a huge hit with shopping audiences. The visual of bringing products into a customer’s line of sight is financially rewarding, with Tokinomo reporting an average 200% increase in sales at customers’ retail stores.

Customers not only remembered the Tokinomo robots, they responded to the customer-centric technology to buy more products and told their friends about the experience. From a branding perspective, marketing results don’t get much better.

Normalizing the touchless customer experience

Retail automation is not complete until the customer purchases and pays for an item without human interaction.

Here, customer-centric robotics is changing retail.

This circle closes with robots that can order, pay for and collect products without human help. Retailers, for example, are finding that customers love the ability to collect their groceries, beverages and haberdashery using a console-based order code, and then have their groceries picked up by a robot and delivered to the customer at the store’s “pick-up towers.” ”

If “easy,” “fun,” and “effective” are the terms shoppers use to describe their store’s shopping experience, you know your investment in robotics is really paying off – and that’s exactly what happens with fully automated customer-facing robots at the work at the moment.

Never turn back

Retail robots have arrived, and they’re here to stay.

Industry decision makers are seeing how the retail industry has evolved in recent years and how customer-centric robotics are building brands, making money and vastly improving the customer shopping experience. There’s no question they like what they see (as do customers).

The retail robotics revolution is just beginning.

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