Robots are now doing more than just assembling parts in the automotive and manufacturing industries. Robots are gradually becoming more common in industries ranging from the military to healthcare to retail, bringing new efficiencies with them. When combined with digital forces such as cloud and analytics, these smart companions can have a positive impact on the retail value chain.
Robots will most likely play an important role in the retail value chain, including front-end and back-end operations, over the next 5-10 years. Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS), a novel model that combines cloud computing, AI, robotics, and shared services, is gaining popularity. It, like other shared services, is convenient, cost-effective, and simple to implement.
Although the automotive industry prefers the robotics-as-a-service model, other industries, such as retail, are increasingly adopting it. RaaS offers numerous opportunities for big box and mid-market retailers. Big-box retailers prefer robots for customer interaction and using analytics to predict product demand and availability, whereas medium-sized retailers use them for basic stock monitoring and assessments. Amazon and other big box retailers, such as Walgreens, Staples, and Gap Inc., use robots in their distribution centers to improve packaging and shipping operations.
Warehousing and order fulfillment are also preparing for the “Robotics-as-a-Service model,” which they claim will improve operational effectiveness, raise the return on investment, and ultimately safeguard their initial investment. Here are a few possible use cases in customer assistance, employee assistance, and compliance audits.
- Robotic carts: Customers can be helped by a robotic shopping cart by directing them to the appropriate aisle. Additionally, it can automatically check out as customers add products to their carts or cancel the transaction when products are removed.
- Personalized engagement: Robots can act as shopping assistants in a fashion store by interpreting non-verbal cues from customers’ body language, gestures, and facial expressions to determine their personal preferences.
- Value-added service: For “in-demand services,” large retailers typically have separate counters. A variety of value-added services, including currency exchange, gift-wrapping, price comparisons, and the distribution of loyalty coupons, can be offered by robots.
- Faster fulfillment: Robots can be used in stores to quickly fulfill online orders, especially during busy times and the holiday season.
Compliance Audits and Routine Checks
- Minimizing out-of-shelf scenarios: At least 25% of the items out of stock are present, just not on the appropriate shelf. Robots can be used to move continuously throughout the store, take pictures of the aisles and products, send alerts to a central system for lost items, empty shelves, and low-stock situations, and automatically restock shelves.
- Ensuring planogram compliance: Robots can be used to automate planogram compliance and out-of-shelf (OOS) inspections, saving consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies tens of thousands of dollars. Robots can take pictures of the aisles and the products to learn more about how well they perform and to create planograms that are unique to each store.
- Mitigating shrinkage and theft: Based on the movement and eye-blinking patterns of shoplifters and store employees, surveillance robots placed in stores can assist in identifying suspicious activity. To lessen theft, they can also take pictures of trespassers and notify the store manager.
In light of the growing emphasis on optimizing overheads, the RaaS business model can provide retailers with opportunities to cut costs, increase organizational efficiency, improve customer experience, and boost profits.
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