From the big screen to the cash register, news about robots becoming the stuff of our everyday is now rife, yet the improvements are real. From storage to the point of sale, robots are adding value to retailers here and now and there are R&D tax credits available in the UK to help offset part of the cost.
As well as creating, locating, and logging the items that we buy, robots occupy warehouses in order to manually handle and fetch them.
Online grocery retailer Ocado uses robots in its warehouse operations and estimates that the tech has boosted the productivity of its staff by 50 per cent. Its robots work together in a system called ‘the hive’ – picture a massive metal grid upon which the bots glide across to grab the right groceries from below – slashing the time it would take for humans to do the same.
The company is testing a robot hand that packs fruit and vegetables without the tendency to bruise fresh produce. Machine learning and 3D ‘computer vision’ sensors are supporting the robots’ handling of fragile items such as eggs and glass. The recognition of fruit as ripe or mouldy is another nifty work in progress.
Robots are disrupting the distribution process: Amazon and JustEat have already trialled them as couriers. Tesco’s home-delivery pilot has built-in anti-theft systems, and the robots already managed independent deliveries in a five-kilometre radius of a Tesco supermarket. Sceptical (or just excited) customers can track progress on the app.
Point of sale and beyond
Self-service point-of-sale systems are now very familiar with UK consumers however, our robot retail overlords may be making themselves the most obvious in customer service. AI-powered interfaces are handling more complex queries, handling FAQs through online and phone channels without the help of their human subjects.
Whilst the above may all relate to the larger retailers, serious consideration to the use of robots should also be given by the smaller retailers as they can modernise and really enhance their business. Consumer satisfaction will also improve with the use of robots as, whilst they will certainly replace staff roles, they will not necessarily replace actual jobs, as staff can be trained and move in store to assist with improving the consumers in store experience, which is one of the most popular demands of the modern day high street shopper.
Costs may also be an issue for the smaller retailer, however with UK R&D Tax credits, the costs are at least partially supplemented which should ease the transition.
For more information or to talk about the impact of robots on the retail sector, contact Martin Hamilton – a member of Menzies Retail sector team – by phone on 01784 497 127 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.