Can retail robots entice people back into stores?

As the digital world expands, more of our shopping is done online than ever before and physical retail stores are feeling the effects. But a recent ZD Net article asks if the tools of online shopping could be harnessed IRL (in real life!) and, if so, whether they could tempt shoppers away from their computers and mobile devices.

Online retailers such as Amazon and UK supermarket Ocado have been using technology to push the boundaries of delivery. By combining automation in their warehouses with predictive analytics, they can deliver products almost as soon as they have been ordered - giving customers a faster and more efficient shopping experience.

But brick-and-mortar retailers have been much slower to embrace these solutions - that is, automation and analytics - which could help them compete with the online world.

One startup company, Simbe Robotics, is hoping to change this with the launch of a new retail robot. Shelf auditing and product analytics are two of the most strategically crucial aspects of selling physical products today; in fact, retailers across the globe lose $450 billion each year due to empty shelves or items being out of stock.

As Simbe Robotics' CEO and co-founder, Brad Bogolea, explains: "Shopper experience is everything. If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer."

So far, IT solutions have helped human employees with the task of shelf auditing. But the low-paid, repetitive nature of the work means that there is a lot of scope for human error; which is where autonomous machines can help.

According to an official statement from Simbe, its mobile robot Tally can navigate itself through physical retail spaces to "capture, report, and analyze the state and availability of merchandise and help ensure compliance with the store's planogram."

Even better, it can operate during business hours as state-of-the-art route planning and sensory technology prevent it from bumping into people and/or objects.

Tally is currently being trialled in North America, so it could only be a matter of time before it spreads to even more physical stores.