Chances are, you’ve already once interacted with artificial intelligence during a shopping experience. Although futuristic, the concept isn’t new; big-name retailers such as Walmart and Amazon have been working toward employing robots and drones to reduce costs and improver customer service. Whether the application is through inventory, delivery or in-store, retail robots are becoming more prevalent in companies’ logistic strategies — and it seems only a matter of time before the technology takes over our shopping experiences.
Amazon has long been making big bets on AI, starting with its Echo device up to its latest innovation: in-house robots. The company is reportedly building domestic robots under the project name Vesta, which is overseen by the same executive who spearheads Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division that also developed the Echo. The would-be result? A “mobile Alexa” of sorts, according to Bloomberg. To date, the mega e-tailer has also managed to optimize its fulfillment centers with robots and tried cutting edge concepts such as Prime Air drones.
Several months ago, Walmart announced that it was rolling out shelf-scanning robots that will assist in inventory scanning and stock checking. The two-foot-tall roving towers, equipped with an extendable tower of lights and sensors, can scan shelves to see what products require restocking, have missing or erroneous labels or were put in the wrong section then provide that information to employees with the goal of retail efficiency. Walmart, like Amazon, has also been experimenting with drones for home delivery and curbside pickup.
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Zara has overhauled its BOPIS (or buy online, pick up in store) service with “click and collect” robots that encourage customers at pickup stations to grab their orders from a drop box upon scanning or entering a code that prompts an in-store warehouse bot to deliver their requested packages. The fast-fashion retailer has begun testing at a Spain store near its headquarters late last year and also installed a product recommendation system in mirrors where RFID technology gives shoppers the ability to scan items that are then styled with suggested matching garments and accessories.
4. Best Buy
It’s been almost three years since Best Buy introduced its automated retail solution in the form of a robotic associate. In 2015, the big-box electronics retailer installed the Chloe robot in its Chelsea location in New York City, where it retrieved merchandise from customers’ requests as inputted on a touchscreen service. The company reported that the Chloe was able to select items such as headphones, video games and phone chargers within a half-minute without the need to contact a store associate. Best Buy already has more than 200 Express kiosks nationwide, including airports where travelers can pick up gadgets and accessories in a jiffy.
After conducting a two-year pilot of the OSHBot in Orchard Supply Hardware stores, Lowe’s brought out in the fall of 2016 its next-generation LoweBot, which uses a 3-D scanner to detect shoppers walking into stores and guides them to requested items using laser sensors. Developed through a partnership between Lowe’s Innovation Labs and Silicon Valley tech company Fellow Robots, the autonomous service bots were created to give employees more time to provide personalized experiences for customers. “Our leadership has the foresight to understand that retail — and the world, for that matter — is changing rapidly, and we can do more than react to the future; we can create it,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs.
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