April 6, 2021

RetailRobotSurvey400x275A new survey of the retail industry indicates that robotic technology adoption will occur faster than expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with widespread adoption now expected in just a few years. The survey, sponsored by RetailWire and Brain Corp., was conducted last month among 136 respondents in the retail industry, including wholesalers, retail consultants, and tech solution providers.

In the report, “Robots in Retail: Examining the Autonomous Opportunity,” respondents said robotic technologies were seen as key for assisting workers with several tasks, including floor cleaning and shelf scanning, both in stores and warehouses. Among the results:

  • 64% of retailers said it is important to have a clear, executable, and budgeted robotics automation strategy in place in 2021, including 77% of large retailers.
  • Nearly half of respondents said they will be involved with an in-store robotics project within the next 18 months.
  • 73% of large retailers said the importance of using robotics in warehouses or distribution centers has increased to factors that emerged during the pandemic.
  • Other pandemic factors that influenced a change in thinking included the need to provide safer and cleaner stores for shoppers; the need for enhanced social distancing; and the need to improve on-shelf inventory availability.

One of the major priorities for retailers and grocery stores during the pandemic was cleanliness, the survey indicated. Increased cleanliness is the new normal - a vast majority (72%) of those surveyed said they do not anticipate much change in consumer expectations toward in-store cleanliness, even after vaccines are broadly distributed.

The survey also showed that retailers are looking at robots to perform in-store functions, such as automating tasks and collecting environmental data to improve customer experiences. For example, this includes robot applications for scanning shelves for stockouts (59%), order picking (47%), delivering goods from the back warehouse to store shelves (35%), and pricing accuracy checks (35%).

“The global pandemic brought the value of robotic automation sharply into focus for many retailers, and we now see them accelerating their deployment timelines to reap the advantages now and into the future,” said Josh Baylin, senior director of strategy at Brain Corp. “Autonomous robots are versatile productivity partners that help keep stores clean, generate additional hours for employees, and help improve in-store customer experiences.”

Brain said the survey findings are consistent with the growth that the company saw in 2020 for robotic deployments with its OEM partners. Brain achieved an increase of more than 300% in robotic deployments last year, many in retail stores, while generating 3.3 million hours in productivity for end customers.

RetailWire said it found the accelerated adoption trends from the survey “stunning” and “surprisingly large.”

“These are not the kinds of numbers indicative of an emerging technology in an early phase of deployment in retail, but of a technology just a few short years from widespread adoption,” the report said. “In fact, as robotic technology gains a foothold with in-store operations, broader benefits are likely to fuel future growth, such as the ability to capture granular, real-time data about products on shelves and customer buying patterns, monitor pricing and planogram compliance and keep tabs on out-of-stocks. Armed with this kind of data, retailers will be able to discover actionable insights, make smarter decisions, and increase store productivity.”