Thanks in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, certain trends that had been steadily developing over the past few years were accelerated exponentially. According to one recent study, by as soon as 2026, about 24% of all retail purchases are anticipated to take place online. By the end of the year, e-commerce sales will grow by an enormous 10.4%. Even though businesses of all types collectively faced challenges, by the end of 2020 global retail e-commerce sales managed to grow by 27.6%.
Of course, a new era brings new challenges for retailers, with increased competition and labor challenges chief among them. That's why more and more organizations are turning to robotics technologies to help enjoy all of the benefits of this "brave new world," with as few of the potential downsides as possible.
Robotics Integration is No Passing Fad
The use of robotics in warehouse environments in particular is certainly nothing new. It's a technology that has been employed in some capacity for decades.
But now, robots are not only becoming ubiquitous in warehouses for things like product picking, packaging, and shipping, but they're also being found on the retail floor in greater numbers than ever.
Today, about one out of every four retailers is already using in-store robotics to some degree. Not only that, but more than half of those that aren't plan to start doing so within the next 18 months.
Right now, about 77% of all large retailers are making long-term robotics strategy a top priority – and all it takes is one look at the use cases to see why.
The Potential of Robotics in the Right Environments
Robotics technology is nothing if not versatile.
Retailers around the globe are employing robotics for important tasks like floor cleaning, for example – something that helps improve the quality of the in-store shopping experience for customers. It can also be used for everything from shelf scanning and other inventory-related purposes to confirming planogram compliance. Many retailers are also finding success with pricing accuracy checks.
Employing robotics isn't about replacing human employees at all. Instead, it's about supporting and empowering them. It's about making sure these critical (but time-consuming) jobs get done as accurately as possible, all so retail employees can focus their attention on more pressing matters that still require that "human" element.
We have seen retailers upskill employees and increase cleaning from three to seven days a week. Retailers are driving more value from their third-party service providers with AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) , too – refocusing third parties on more areas and improving cleaning frequency and quality.
Addressing the Challenges of Today with the Technology of Tomorrow
In the end, we've entered into a time period when consumer expectations for retail businesses are higher than they've ever been.
That, coupled with issues inherent in the labor force, have created a host of new challenges for retailers of all shapes and sizes. Luckily, robotics integration can be a viable opportunity to solve many of the most urgent ones.
The application of robotics can be leveraged to help retailers improve labor productivity, extracting more value and improving employee satisfaction. Salaries that are expected to increase by at least 5% over the next 12 months, not to mention dealing with new concerns like the overtime rules that went into effect under the Fair Labor Standards Act, are a big deal if you’re already contending with razor-thin profit margins as it is.
Robotics can help retailers create a competitive advantage while tackling some of the biggest challenges facing retailers today.
Turn Data to Insights to Actions
To be meaningful, innovative technology needs to serve two key purposes: directly supporting a better customer experience (to drive top-line growth) and directly powering operational excellence (to protect the bottom line).
Robotic technology adoption is surging in retail because savvy leaders recognize these solutions address both of these goals, empowering them to make data-driven decisions to maximize resources and deliver a standout customer experience. Retailers are leveraging autonomous robots to deliver consistent floor cleaning, driving labor efficiently by redeploying staff effectively.
These autonomous machines help deliver delightful experiences to shoppers and project a forward-thinking brand image. Perhaps most importantly, these smart machines are capturing valuable in-store data streams that empower retailers to drive continuous operational improvements and unlock new competitive advantages.
Robotics is changing retail for good. Are you ready? The question is, do you want to be ahead of the curve or chasing from behind? To stay ahead, retailers should begin identifying opportunities where robotic floor scrubbers can help their operations. Launching a pilot program can put your business in a better position to easily and rapidly scale up and expand in the future. People are willing to pay more for an experience that they enjoy and can depend on.
Download the Retail AMR Infographic here