While online shopping is growing at a fast pace, retail stores are looking increasingly robotic. Both, technology and robotics have a big role to play behind-the-scenes of our shopping routine, but which robots will be entering our retail space tomorrow?
The Humanoid Robot
Eleven years ago, the self-service check outs were the first robotic interactions that were could encountered in the UK. Today, places such as restaurants and retail outlets can also plug the gap with humanoid robots. With their friendly, human-like shape and tone of voice, the humanoid robots will certainly stir your curiosity.
While pulling in temporary crowds, their intended use is for welcoming, informing as well as amusing clients and customers. The first humanoid robot capable of recognising the principal human emotions, Pepper, was launched in Japan in 2014. Whilst it was originally launched as a “companion” to facilitate social interaction, Pepper is now being used across several sectors such as Retail, Care Homes, Hospitals, Car Showrooms or banks. Whilst it has already picked up work in Asia, Pepper is still at its beginning in the UK.
The Autonomous Retail Robot
Whilst robots recording inventory and patrolling warehouses are increasingly common behind the scenes of our shop floors, they have yet to be seen operating alongside shoppers and employees in the UK. In the near future, we can expect to see robots integrating onto our shop floors, answering simple questions from customers or performing repetitive tasks.
The automated robot Tally, helping with shelf-auditing and analytics solution is already in trials with retailers in the US. Tally autonomously traverses store isles during business hours to monitor stock levels, ensuring that products are always available, correctly displayed and accurately priced.
Another autonomous retail service robot, LoweBot, is also said to be changing the way customer service work. LoweBot is able to find products in multiple languages and effectively navigate the store. It can also assist with inventory monitoring in real-time. The aim of both robots’s aim is to enable employees to spend more time offering their expertise and speciality knowledge to customers. Furthermore, it will also help to retrieve data and to identify patterns that might enable better business decisions.
The Checkout-free Tech
Amazon is offering us a vision of the future with the opening of its first brick-and-mortar grocery store called Amazon Go. The store involves no lines or cashiers, improving the speed and convenience for customers to create a frictionless sales experience. When entering the store, the shoppers need to launch an amazon app before starting to browse and shop. They will then simply walk out of the store with their selected items which are automatically tracked and registered. There is currently only one Go pilot store in Seattle, USA and it is only accessible by Amazon employees. The e-commerce giant is clearly showing an interest to brick-and-mortar stores with its recent acquisition of Whole Foods, and seems very close to integrating the key aspects of online shopping into physical stores.
The first autonomous robots to deliver packages straight to customers’ front door was introduced in 2016 by Starship Technologies. The six-wheeled robots are already undergoing trials in Europe, where they work for Tesco, Pronto and Just Eat. Each robot works like a delivery person, starting at a restaurant or store to load up, delivering to a given address and then returning to base. These autonomous rovers are expected to make about 10 deliveries a day, although they are still being tested and require someone walking alongside them during their travels. Starship Technologies isn’t the only company exploring the benefits of automated robot delivery – Domino’s Pizza has been testing out a similar technology in Australia, while Amazon continues to explore developing a drone delivery army of its own. It is interesting to note that even our well-known self-serve checkouts machines are still not fully replacing sales staff, since an assistant is always required nearby. Whilst robotic seems to be the way forward, it is still relies on human employees to oversee the technology.