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Robots in Grocery Retail: Assessing the Potential of Current Options for the Future

Georges Mirza Headshot
Robots in Grocery Retail: Assessing the Potential of Current Options for the Future
Bossa Nova Robotics' solution is at work in many Walmart stores

We see it almost daily on social media and other outlets; news from robotic companies with a promise to deploy or expand at a retailer. What is truth and what is fiction?

The truth is, several of these companies have been at it for over four years building their shelf insight solution. Then new ones joined the field solving a less complicated retail problem, but all are trying to build up to the holy grail solution of shelf insights.

So far from what I can see, only one company, perhaps two, have a path to success. No, it is not the obvious ones that will bring the solution to bare, and I will not be divulging any specific company progress in this article.

In the arena are Bossa Nova Robotics, Cosy, Fellow Robotics, Simbe Robotics, and newcomers to the U.S. market like Badger/Jabil, Brain Corp., Zippedi among others.

The essential functions

If you read my "Robots in Grocery Retail: The Questions You Need to Ask When Adopting" article, you know the questions that need to be answered.

Can it accurately, repeatedly, and autonomously, scale, function in retail stores processing collected data and solve real business problems? And at what cost? Those are the real issues to solve in a first deployment at scale. We are not there just yet.

Almost all continue to trim the cost of their robots, with a few of the newcomers being more successful and forcing others to jump into the trenches and engage in turf defending at any price.

Processing and product recognition continue to be an area of of opportunity for all to increase accuracy levels, expand and differentiate capabilities.

All are on the frontline engaging to win the business of the retail giants like Walmart, Kroger, etc., and rightfully so.

This decision can prove to be the path to dominance or entanglement into a never-ending list of requirements and trials. Some gained penetration focusing on the non-giants, which might be the winning strategy.

Want More?

Read another article from Georges Mirza on the topic: Robots in Grocery Retail: The Questions You Need to Ask When Adopting

Return on the investment

There is another element that we did not discuss yet. It involves the route to take in order to achieve results.

What will it take and how healthy is the company to sustain itself long term and provide a return on the money they promised their investors?

Unfortunately, there has been a focus on the hardware pizzazz and a lack of key pedigree crucial to complete the solution.

Several disruptors joined the game, with a fraction of the investment and notoriety of others that were able to progress and bypass companies that established themselves as the main players to win market share. These disruptors had the maturity to prioritize scale and insights early on and understood the retail challenges well.

My counsel for retailers that understand the need to bring robotic automation to center store: look again before you commit; you will be surprised.

These new companies have impressed me and proven my theory that over time you can build it quicker and at reduced cost. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace, faster than retailers are used to, adapting has not been easy for them and robot capabilities are not maturing fast enough.

A Vision for the future

The new entries focused on scalability and insight from day one. As a result, they built a system to sustain current challenges with the ability to grow more rapidly because they prioritized early.

The other variable is not just what you can do today, it’s what are you prepared to do for tomorrow. You must understand the roll out of robotics in retail at the ground level. Do you have that vision, desire, and ability?

Established solution companies, from hardware to insights, like JDA, NCR, Nielsen, Zebra Technologies and others are wise to understand the impact of robots at retail to their business model. They would be well advised to monitor and ensure readiness to participate.

Make no mistake, this is a major paradigm shift to all in the retail ecosystem.  

Time to weigh the pros and cons of each of the players as they struggle to move beyond the hardware and navigation capabilities. Equipped with in-depth industry knowledge and experience, I am seeking the "secret sauce" if you will and in my opinion, only two companies possess it.

The next year will be decisive and the field will start to narrow. The outcome of the Walmart battleground will reveal the hallelujah moment for some and the missing of the boat for others.

What should you do? Your homework, study the pros and cons of each, understand where they are today and their vision for tomorrow and then decide which solution is here to stay and is right for you…for the time being that is.

About the Author

Georges Mirza Headshot

Georges Mirza

Georges Mirza has been ahead of trends developing retail/CPG market-leading industry-changing solutions. He led the charge and established the roadmap for robotic indoor data collection, image recognition and analytics for retail to address out-of-stocks, inventory levels and compliance. Having previously managed portfolios of space and category management solutions at Nielsen, Blue Yonder and SymphonyAI Retail CPG, Mirza currently advises companies on how to strategize and prioritize their roadmaps for growth. Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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