How Robotic Inventory Scanners Are Easing Retail Pain Points
Despite sales performing solidly, the retail industry continues to keep up a heady pace of evolution. Retailers are constantly seeking out new technologies to optimize and future-proof their operations as well as to improve efficiency. One area where technology is making a significant impact is in the realm of inventory management. One such technology that has gained significant recent traction is the use of autonomous robotic inventory scanners.
Traditional inventory methods, such as manual counting or barcode scanning, are prone to human error and can ultimately result in stock discrepancies, leading to empty shelves or wasted food. Autonomous robotic inventory scanners, which can use advanced computer vision, RFID and other data acquisition methods, are able to efficiently, accurately and consistently scan shelves, reducing the risk of mistakes and accurately maintaining inventory visibility at all times.
Equipped with sensors and cameras, these self-navigating robots are able to scan and report on inventory levels throughout retail stores. They can be programmed to scan entire store shelves or specific sections, and the data they collect is then transmitted back to a central system for analysis. Retailers are able to track and manage their inventory in real time, ensuring that they always have the right products in the right places.
For brick-and-mortar stores, stock on shelves represents the primary revenue driver. Better on-shelf availability means more sales, while empty shelves will quickly erode customer confidence. According to Ipsos, nearly one in five (18 percent) households with children switched grocery providers due to dissatisfaction with inventory. In terms of dollars, out-of-stocks are costing retailers $456.3 billion annually.
Conversely, inventory is the biggest expense retailers have, and poor inventory planning and overstocking can eat into profits. Retailers are losing upwards of $362 billion per year due to overstocking, and 43 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year by supermarkets, according to Shelf Engine.
Simply put, over- and understocking is cutting into retailers' bottom lines.
Sam's Club®, a division of Walmart Inc. and a leading membership warehouse club, recently announced the completion of a national, chainwide rollout of "Inventory Scan" towers that were added to its existing fleet of robotic scrubbers in partnership with Brain Corp.
Once installed on the scrubber, the cloud-connected Inventory Scan tower captures inventory data as it moves autonomously around the club. It provides insights such as product localization, planogram compliance, product stock levels, and verification of pricing accuracy. For Sam’s, the in-store robots can alert associates to ensure shelves are stocked to optimal levels and each function it performs negates the need for time-consuming and potentially inaccurate manual processes that can impact product availability, member experience, or create waste caused by inaccurate ordering.
The dual purpose nature of the robots deployed — being able to efficiently clean floors and capture inventory data — allowed Sam's Club to successfully convert time historically spent on cleaning to more member-focused activities which can elevate customer experiences. Therefore, in addition to increasing the consistency and frequency of floor cleaning, the machines are able to provide associates with critical insights that can inform better decisions around stock management and pricing.
The retail industry is undergoing a prolonged recovery, and companies must adjust their technological strategies to future-proof their operations while sustaining the level of service that customers expect.
The challenge for retailers to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change is significant, but more important than ever. With new technologies and innovations constantly emerging, retailers must be proactive in staying up-to-date and investing in the tools and systems that will help them remain competitive.
Automated inventory scanning with robotics represents just one part of a broader digital transformation strategy for retailers — one which ultimately involves utilizing smart solutions throughout the supply chain to consistently improve product quality, heighten operational efficiency and, ultimately, deliver great customer experiences.
Gavin Donley is head of marketing at Brain Corp, the leading AI software platform for powering automated operations.
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Gavin Donley is head of marketing at Brain Corp, the leading AI software platform for powering automated operations. He has over a decade of experience building impactful marketing strategies for innovative technology brands. Prior to joining Brain Corp, Gavin held multiple brand and product marketing roles at pioneering global technology firm, Qualcomm.