Are robots the key to omnichannel inventory management?
The use of robots on the retail sales floor is the same sort of double-edged sword as when used for the warehouse. Some see them as capable of handling arduous processes to allow employees to focus on customer service. Others see robots as pure replacements, threatening to cut out the need for real live human staff. The latest robot to make an appearance at the front of the store is, if it catches on, likely to generate the same sort of controversy.
A company called 4D Retail Technology Corp. has created a robot capable of automating the inventory process by rolling through the aisles and imaging every product and every barcode in a store. An article on ZDNet described the robot, called the 4D Space Genius, as being a Segway-mounted scanner, which can successfully traverse and scan a full grocery store in about an hour. The robot can identify not only the location of every item in the store, but can log discrepancies between price tags, missing price tags and empty shelves.
Among the robots’ potential applications are determining stock position closer to real-time and streamlining ordering and re-shelving. ZDNet author Greg Nichols noted, for instance, that the ability of the robot to create a 3-D map of a store and its products could theoretically create a closer tie between online and in-store shopping. Demonstration units are slated to appear at a few unnamed major chains in North America and Europe.
Others are also working on using robots to crack the difficult nut of streamlined inventory management. The creators of Lowe’s OSHBot are working to get the robots to track inventory in real-time, according to a recent Fast Company article. The developers also working on building out other inventory-related solutions within the robot, such as the ability to tell a customer if an item s/he brings into the store is stocked there.
Others retailers, such as Target, have been using less flashy RFID technology to more accurately manage inventory and integrate it with omnichannel and online initiatives.
- Store clerks beware: this Segway has a scanner gun – ZDNet
- What The Lowe’s Robot Will Do For You – And The Future Of Retail – Fast Company
- Lowe’s new sales help seems a little robotic – RetailWire
- Target puts RFID rollout on the fast track – RetailWire
What are the potential upsides and downsides of implementing the 4D Space Genius in grocery stores? Will this be the technology solution for real-time inventory management, or are other options such as RFID a better bet?