Are store robots cute, creepy – or nearly useless?
Giant Foods president Nick Bertram revealed at the NRF Big Show in January that his company and sister business Stop & Shop, both part of Ahold Delhaize, were in the process of rolling out Marty, a 6’3” robotic assistant, to all the stores operated by the two chains.
The Marty robots were initially being used to roam the aisles of stores identifying hazards such as liquid spills and alert associates of messes that needed to be cleaned up.
When speaking at NRF, Mr. Bertram said reactions to Marty ranged from some customers being freaked out to others who “actually loved” the robot, which has “googly eyes” added to make its appearance more humanizing.
Nicole Gallucci, writing for Mashable, can be counted among those who have been puzzled by Marty’s presence. In a column yesterday, Ms. Gallucci reports that each Marty costs $35,000 and goes around stores identifying potential hazards, and that’s it. Marty, if Ms. Gallucci is correct, doesn’t distinguish between spills that pose an immediate serious risk and those that are less urgent.
“I’ve only seen Marty ‘go off’ once in the produce section,” she writes. “When an employee came to the rescue she couldn’t seem to find the hazard, so in an attempt to quiet the robot she scanned the floor and began picking up any fragment in sight — a questionable crumb, a plastic bread tag, a shred of corn husk. To this day I have no idea what minuscule object Marty was trying to warn me about, but after causing quite the scene it eventually resumed floor duty.”
In Marty’s defense, the unit is intended to do more than shadow customers around the store beeping away and calling for associates when it finds something/anything on the floor. The robot’s role, as reported earlier this year, is expected to expand to include planogram compliance and monitoring of out-of-stocks on store shelves.
While some such as Ms. Gallucci may question the utility of tools such as Marty, retailers appear firmly committed to putting robots to work in stores. Walmart announced in April that it planned to add robotic floor scrubbers (Marty, are your reading this?) to 1,500 stores. The world’s largest retailer also announced plans to deploy robotic shelf scanners to improve its in-stock efficiency and pricing accuracy.
- Marty the grocery store robot is a glimpse into our hell-ish future – Mashable
- NRF: Roving robots report for work at all Giant Foods’ stores – RetailWire
- Will Walmart clean up with its robotic workforce? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are robots currently being deployed in stores ready for their primetime performances? What roles will robots play in big box stores, at least those operated by large chains, 10 years from now?