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GUEST COMMENT How robots can help retails get back to full strength

Michel Spruijt, CRO at Brain Corp

Michel Spruijt takes a look at how modular robots may hold the key to build back better across the retail sector.

As the retail sector steadily finds its feet after several disruptive years, it’s worth taking stock of the lessons learned from the experience. Inventory challenges and staff shortages created the need for new solutions and, after a period of experimentation, some novel technologies were implemented at scale. 

One such solution was the uptake of mobile autonomous robots deployed in retail outlets worldwide.

More robots are deployed in workplaces now than ever before, according to the International Federation of Robotics, with retail outlets being no exception. As applications for automated robotics in the workplace have grown, so have modular robotics platforms, which have made robotics gains go even further.

Autonomous machines and robotics platforms are quickly moving to the forefront of retail industry innovation. By automating certain processes, such as order fulfillment, customer service, and inventory management, retailers can reduce costs while streamlining their operations. 

Power to the retailers

It took a global pandemic and an ongoing supply chain crisis to truly kickstart automation in retail. As hygiene became a priority, more retailers and grocers than ever used robots to clean their stores more quickly and effectively. This made for long-lasting adjustments as robots took on more manual tasks and allowed retail staff time to tackle higher value tasks, such as disinfecting surfaces and serving customers. 

Within retail, the benefits of automation are continuing to increase and expand. Modern robotics platforms are now able to offer a real time view over their inventories. With the deployment of inventory scanning robots, retailers are able to efficiently detect the location of products, out of stocks, inaccurate prices, and planogram compliance.

Improving operations

Strategically deployed robots can also help retailers improve their workarounds and, by extension, their customer service. This is achieved by exploiting robotic data. For instance, floor-scrubbing robots are not only limited to their stated role; they also generate useful and actionable data whilst they clean. 

This marks a first for managers, who can get a quantitative idea of the work done by their devices. Features such as email reporting and cloud-based user portals allow managers to access insights that can inform better decision making.

The collected data provides various metrics by which the robot’s performance can be ascertained, such as: surface area cleaned, the number of routes completed, and percentage of autonomous usage versus manual usage. Heat maps can accurately record areas that have been covered by robot cleaners, providing trackable, verifiable records of operations. 

With precise data on tap, managers can optimize cleaning routines, and thereby ensure they’re operating stores in line with compliance guidelines. The future of store management is always hard to predict, but what is for certain is that more retailers will use data to organize their facilities, consulting “proof of work” metrics to inform their decisions. Centralised and cloud-based software platforms, connected to robots on the shop floor, will become integral to task management, with multiple automated retail applications from different manufacturers controlled from one place. In short, retailers will have more control than they previously could have imagined. 

Moving forward

Until recently, robots were mainly found in warehouses and factories, where they were handled by specialized technical support, who alone had the specialist skills required to operate the machines. Before robots could work seamlessly alongside retail staff, they had to be made accessible for non-technical users.

In light of this demand, robots designed for dynamic retail settings now come with easy-to-use interfaces, graphical reporting, and simple deployment processes. Straightforward user experiences have become an increasingly essential prerequisite for all standard shop floor robots.

Within a brief time period, platform-driven robots have become increasingly common in retail and I believe that, in light of the ever clearer value they’re able to deliver as instore allies to workers and store managers, this momentum will only continue to grow.


Michel Spruijt is CRO at Brain Corp

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