in a physical store with human interaction. Consumers often go to the
store to get inspired and get great service, rather than just have a purely
functional experience,” O’Brien says.
Amazon literally gets into the heads of its customers, say industry
observers, by carefully watching their each and every move through
devices like its Echo home speaker system with its “Alexa” voice.
“The more you interact with Alexa as a person, the more data
Amazon is collecting on you, and the more they are understanding
exactly what you want,” says Babs Ryan, the Boston-based retail prin-
cipal at ThoughtWorks Retail, which maintains U.S. headquarters in
Chicago. “Now they can listen to you in your home all the time. It is dif-
ferent than just tracking you while you are on your phone.”
Amazon, Ryan says, garnered tons of information about consumers
when it placed its lockers in supermarkets and drugstores, like Rite Aid.
“Amazon learned about the customers who were going in to get those
groceries,” she says. “So, everything about Amazon is about learning
about people. It is not focused on what people buy. It is focused on how
Traditional supermarkets should carefully take a page from Amazon’s
playbook, Ryan says.
“Instead of worrying how they can do self-checkout, retailers should
be thinking about what is that next big thing that customers want, like
dinner tonight in one place, and use technology to help their customers
get that,” she says.
“What would be brilliant for grocery stores to do is take the informa-
tion they already have and actually turn it into something innovative—
in baby steps. Amazon didn’t get there overnight,” Ryan says, noting
that Amazon carefully developed its automated payment system to the
point where consumers are now very comfortable using it.
Improving in-stock positioning is one of those baby steps, and one
where the latest technology—like robots—can play a pivotal role. Mass
merchandiser Target is one of the retailers at that forefront.
“Target has been testing the use of robots to understand how their
capabilities could automate various processes and improve inventory
management,” says Jenna Reck, manager, public relations at Target
Corp., based in Minneapolis. “We brought a few different robots into
a handful of San Francisco stores earlier in 2016 and have been testing
and learning in our stores.”
TALLY UP INVENTORY
Simbe Robotics has been key in that learning curve. The San Francisco-based company tested what it bills as the world’s first fully autonomous
shelf auditing and analytic solutions robot—named Tally—in Target’s
Bay Area stores, and also deploys them in limited assortment stores,
supermarkets and drugstores.
“Our original goal was to automate some of the key operational tasks
in-store, and we decided to align around the problem of inventory dis-
tortion,” says Brad Bogolea, CEO of Simbe Robotics. “Today retailers
spend countless hours every week trying to ensure product is properly
stocked in the right place at the right price.”
With its flashing head and taillights, and a series of “beeps” and
“boops,” Tally—which resembles a 96-inch tower speaker—simply
glides up and down each side of the aisle, using computer vision to
check product stock, if it is in the right place, and if it has the right price.
It then uploads the information to the Cloud. “Once we analyze those
components for each of the planograms or categories in the store, such
as deodorant, laundry detergent and salty snacks, we provide those key
insights back to the retailer, to alert them that there are empty facings of
Tide on Aisle 19, or that the endcap with the Greek yogurt on feature at
10/$10 is sold out and we have to make sure we get more in on the next
truck,” he says.
“We found the ideal time for Tally to run in a grocery store is in the
evening, just post-rush, to provide key insight to the restockers coming
in in the evening, and then run again in the morning after they leave to
ensure that everything was set,” Bogolea says, adding that retailers may
wish to have Tally check “hot button” sale categories throughout the
day to ensure shelves remain stocked.
Simbe Robotics rents Tally to retailers as a service. “Everything is
bundled in a monthly fee, and that fee is based upon the number of
products we are keeping track of, the size of the store, and the frequency
in which we are scanning or processing them,” Bogolea says.
“We have found this incredibly cost-effective in comparison to exist-
ing means,” Bogolea says. “And the fact that the brands are asking for
this data essentially provides a new revenue stream for the retailers
so that they cannot only subsidize the cost of this technology on the
brands, but also create revenue generation possibilities because a small
handful of brands will essentially pay for the solution itself.”
Tally has been a hit, Bogolea says, with customers—and employees.