Retailers fast-tracking robotic automation technologies in wake of Covid-19, survey finds

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The retail industry is looking to adopt new robotic technology faster than expected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with widespread adoption expected in a few years, according to a survey conducted by RetailWire and AI company Brain Corp.

According to Brain Corp, the results of the survey, titled Robots in Retail: Examining the Autonomous Opportunity, conducted last month, underscore the growing significance of robotic automation technology in the post-pandemic marketplace.

It said these technologies are seen as key for assisting workers with a variety of tasks, from floor cleaning to shelf scanning, both in stores and in warehouses.

The survey queried 136 respondents in the retail industry, including retailers and wholesalers, retail consultants, tech solution providers, and brand marketers and manufacturers.

According to the results, 64% of retailers said they believe it is important to have a clear, executable, and budgeted robotics automation strategy in place in 2021, including 77% of large retailers.

What’s more, half of the respondents said they will be involved with an in-store robotics project within the next 18 months.

Some 73% of large retailers said the importance of using robotics in warehouses or distribution centers has increased due to factors that emerged during the pandemic, including the need to provide a safer, cleaner store for shoppers; the need for enhanced social distancing; and the need to improve on-shelf inventory availability.

On that point, 72% of respondents said they do not anticipate much change in consumer expectations toward increased in-store cleanliness even after vaccines are broadly distributed.

The survey also showed that retailers are looking to use robotic solutions for in-store functions such as automating tasks and collecting environmental data for improving customer experiences.

This includes robotic applications for scanning shelves for stockouts (59%), order picking (47%), delivering goods from the back warehouse to store shelves (35%), pricing accuracy checks (35%), and more.

“The global pandemic brought the value of robotic automation sharply into focus for many retailers, and we now see them accelerating their deployment timelines to reap the advantages now and into the future,” said Josh Baylin, senior director of strategy at Brain Corp.

“Autonomous robots are versatile productivity partners that help keep stores clean, generate additional hours for employees, and help improve in-store customer experiences.”

RetailWire said it found the new accelerated adoption trends expressed in the survey “stunning” and “surprisingly large”.

“These are not the kinds of numbers indicative of an emerging technology in an early phase of deployment in retail, but of a technology just a few short years from widespread adoption,” according to the report.

“In fact, as robotic technology gains a foothold in-store operations, broader benefits are likely to fuel future growth, such as the ability to capture granular, real-time data about products on shelves and customer buying patterns, monitor pricing and planogram compliance and keep tabs on out-of-stocks.

“Armed with this kind of data, retailers will be able to discover actionable insights, make smarter decisions and increase store productivity.”

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