The next retail revolution may not be a hot new brand or cool new concept store. Instead, consumers may soon be coming face to face with robotic retailers as technology that was once confined to the warehouse gradually puts on a friendlier face and moves to front-of-house.
US retail giant Best Buy has been trialling a one-armed robot nicknamed Chloe. Working in much the same way as a giant vending machine, customers interact with Chloe via touchscreen catalogues and instructions to order and pay for items. Once a selection is made Chloe zips off to pluck it from a shelf and hand it over through a chute.
While it’s not likely to work for impulse purchases or customers who fancy a browse around, Chloe can handle dozens of customers at a time if they know what they are looking for. The set up also means stock takes up less space since there is no need for customers to be able to pass by things or have them within reach, plus Chloe works 24/7, without a break. For retailers of small durable goods, this could point to a future of much lower floor space and staff costs.
More conventional retail environments could be set to benefit from robot technology too. A mobile machine called Tally from technology start-up Simbe is eliminating the most boring job in retail: the stocktake.
Tally can navigate its way around the aisles, counting as it goes. By identifying gaps in the shelves and spotting when items are running low, it can help retail staff stay on top of the shelf stacking and make sure the customer can get what they need. It can also pick up on when something is in the wrong spot, or has been mispriced.
While the technology is still in development, with functions to be added and refined, both Tally and Chloe point the way to a more automated retail future.