Retail Executive

JAN-FEB 2018

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Retail Robots: The Next Frontier How semi- to fully autonomous robots will continue to change retail. S T E V E N K E I T H P L A T T Director and Research Fellow, Platt Retail Institute, and Research Director, Retail Analytics Council, Northwestern University distribution of flyers, coupons, or food samples. 5 Mer- chandising operations include robots auditing items on store shelves to determine needs for restocking, mis- placed items, etc. Examples include: ▶ SoftBank Robotics' Pepper: a customer-facing ro- bot focused on engagement, providing product and promotional information, the collection of custom- er information, and attracting customers to a store. Pepper has been piloted at various U.S. retailers, and the company claims over 10,000 are in place globally, including at Pizza Hut in Singapore. ▶ Fellow Robots' Navii: another customer-facing robot, Navii guides customers to products in the store and provides related product and store in- formation. In addition, it scans inventory to deter- mine products that may be out of stock, finds price discrepancies, and discovers misplaced items. ▶ Bossa Nova Robotics: a shelf-auditing robot that scans shelves to check stock, identifies missing and misplaced items, as well as incorrect prices and mislabeling. According to Walmart, which is currently testing in more than 50 stores, the robots scan shelves more accurately and three times faster than store associates. 6 et, robotic introduction into retail stores has seriously lagged behind that of manu- facturing and other industries. This point can be exemplified by a review of the WR Service Robots 2017 report, 4 which notes that the num- ber of professional services robots sold globally in 2016 rose by 24 percent in applications from agriculture to window cleaning. Retail is not even listed as an appli- cation. The good news is that innovations in cognitive computing, which enables robots to function autono- mously within complex environments, are now leading to the introduction of various robots into the front of the store. In this article, we highlight various front-of-the-house robots currently being deployed. We also discuss what we believe is the most consequential application for re- tailers in the near term. Finally, we outline one emerging application that retail executives should be tracking, be- cause it will soon be coming to a store near you. CURRENT DEPLOYMENTS Retail robots currently being introduced generally have functionality including providing shopper assistance and assistance in merchandising. Shopper assistance services can include greeting and guiding customers to a product's location, providing information, and/or the Y Robots have been around for many years. 1 In fact, General Motors introduced in- dustrial robots into production lines as far back as 1961. 2 These early robots were focused on simple repetitive manufacturing tasks. More recently, advancements in technology have led to autonomous mobile manipulation platforms, including those with the ability to pick and sort, such as the more than 100,000 robots deployed by Amazon in its warehouses. 3 ROBOTICS innovation By S. Keith Platt RETAIL ROBOTS: THE NEXT FRONTIER RETAILEXECUTIVE.COM JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018 28

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