The world has changed, and people have gotten used to eCommerce. But the next level of shopping will definitely be robots
The rivalry between brick-and-mortar businesses and internet sellers continues. Because of the convenience, speed, and tailored experience available, the number of buyers choosing to purchase items and services online is quickly increasing. This has been a concern for companies with physical storefronts for years, and the recent epidemic has just aggravated the situation. Innovative experiences may be a crucial motivator in bringing customers back into stores and differentiating services from online competitors. But employing robots in your physical stores goes far beyond being just a gimmick. Robots have special abilities that regular human workers just can't compete with.
Let's start with how robots are employed in retail now - it's typical to think of Amazon's warehouse robots, industrial production robots, shelf-stacking robots, or even delivery robots. But how appealing does the idea of a robot who would greet you as you go into your favorite business sound?
For a long time, brick-and-mortar stores have been struggling for survival in the age of internet shopping, a problem that the current epidemic has only aggravated. So the challenge for the retail business is, how can physical locations remain relevant in an era of rising internet sales? The answer is to provide unique consumer experiences that cannot be replicated in the virtual world.
You've probably heard about social robots being employed in retail. You could have even encountered one in your neighborhood shop. In the United States, for example, thousands of robots are being used in hundreds of supermarkets to notify employees of serious issues. Moving east, Japan's oldest department store, Mitsukoshi, pioneered automated receptionists in 2015 with ChihiraAico, a lifelike humanoid.
Telepresence robots are also becoming increasingly common, especially with staff reductions in real establishments. For example, Kellogg's, a multinational food manufacturing firm, wanted to improve customer experiences with the Temi robot in its Times Square café. This proved to be beneficial to both employees and customers.
If you use online shopping services frequently, it's very probable that the firm you buy from will personalize the service to greet you by name. The website will suggest intriguing possibilities based on your tastes and purchasing history, and when it comes time to checkout, your payment and shipping information will already be saved. None of this is likely to be the case at an actual store.
The deployment of a social robot can help improve the in-store experience's personalization. For example, based on recorded data, a robot may recognize returning customers, engage in personal communication, and ask the consumer about their reason for visiting the business. Furthermore, since the robot has a constantly updating layout of the store and its product, the robot can take them straight to their desired product once the consumer explains what they are looking for. As a matter of fact, The store owner may ask the robot not to choose the direct way to the product but to take a more "scenic route" to ensure the customer sees other related products they might consider purchasing.
As opposed to human workers, robots are excellent multitaskers, so as the robot is showing the customer the way to his desired product, it can also take stock of every shelf they pass along the way and communicate silently with the other robots in the store, requesting one of them to re-stock whatever product is missing. But if you think that performing two tasks at the same time is considered multitasking, think again because while the robot is traveling throughout the store, it is also keeping the floors clean and shiny with its built-in vacuum+mop.
But the thing that separates Robots and human workers the most is the fact that robots don't go home at the end of the day; they literally live in the store. That means that after all the customers are gone, and after the manager has left, the robots keep working, making sure the shelves are stocked, the floors are mopped, the toilets are sparkling clean, and the doors are locked. And while all the humans are fast asleep, the robots take turns patrolling the store and getting charged and ready for another day.
But The real value of retail robots is the ability to collect more granular data about the goods on the shelves and consumer purchasing habits, which can improve inventory management efficiency and accuracy. The key is to use retail robots as data collectors within an internet-of-things (IoT) network, which is best thought of as a complex network of connected devices, objects, and sensors collecting massive amounts of data that is analyzed in the cloud or with edge computing, which uses nearby servers to reduce latency. IoT enables an intelligent digital ecosystem in industries ranging from manufacturing to transportation and now retail. When paired with the increased capabilities of AI and machine learning, IoT is assisting in propelling the Fourth Industrial Revolution's promise to revolutionize how we live, work, and do business.
With robots in shops, businesses have the foundation for a comprehensive IoT solution. For example, Auchan Retail Portugal, a leading European food retailer, uses robot-assisted shelf-monitoring equipment in its supermarkets and hypermarkets. While moving around the stores, the robots take images of every shelf and aisle, which are subsequently processed and translated into metrics and insights concerning out-of-stock products and prices.
In retail, where knowing and forecasting consumer demand is critical, such granular data is extremely important. For example, Stitch Fix, which delivers tailored apparel to customers' homes, emphasizes data science in many aspects of its business strategy, from product suggestions to inventory management and fashion design. However, for conventional merchants, simply tracking what customers buy does not provide a whole picture. The true competitive edge for merchants comes from understanding what they couldn't but wanted to buy. This is where aisle robots come in.
Robots that patrol stores collect data at the "top of the funnel," depending on what is and is not on the shelves. Their constant scanning offers a more complete picture of clients' shopping experiences. Shelf inventories, for example, disclose what's in plentiful supply, what's running low, and what's out of stock — all of which reflect customer preferences and behavior.
Retailers must continue to rely on innovation and technology to differentiate themselves and increase their chances of survival in this hypercompetitive business, where margins are stretched across brick-and-mortar, online, and omnichannel competition. E-commerce was one of the first waves of retail innovation. While not a new trend, e-commerce did make additional advances due to the epidemic, as more customers stayed at home and shopped online more often. Indeed, the pandemic might have expedited the move from physical to digital commerce by up to five years. Still, as the world slowly returns to normal and people return to brick-and-mortar stores, Robots NEED to be there to ensure the customers get an upgraded experience that they have never had before.