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Robotics in retail: The future of retail

For decades now, we’ve seen robotics as ‘the future’. However, we’re reaching a point now where robots and cobots (collaborative robots) are integrating seamlessly into our everyday lives and innovating our industries.

The retail industry is no different. The need to evolve the overall experience of visiting bricks and mortar stores has been a focus-point for a while now, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused retailers to totally rethink what this looks like, potentially with robotics in retail.

This is where technology and robotics are finding their feet in the retail industry. They provide the perfect opportunity to bring something new and exciting to customers in-stores, creating new experiences.

The need for retail experiences

Retail experiences, or experiential retail, aims to turn shopping into an immersive and engaging experience, stimulating the senses and bringing products to life. This is such an important part of retail today as it provides something that just cannot be emulated via shopping online.

Yes, online shopping is incredibly quick and convenient, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we are social beings. We crave human interaction. That’s why people still flocked to the shops when they reopened their doors post-lockdown. So, where do robots fit into this?

A robot’s role in retail

Robots and human interaction aren’t two things that usually go hand-in-hand, however, cobots (otherwise known as collaborative robots) require human interaction in order to do their job – hence their name. Cobots are increasingly taking on a number of jobs within retail, for a few different reasons.

Firstly, as much as we need human interaction, many are still wary of socialising in public places due to Coronavirus. There is certainly still a need to be safe in-store and hygiene are paramount. This put cobots in a position to take on tasks such as extensively cleaning floors and surfaces, leaving human workers with more time to focus on more value-adding tasks in and around stores.

robots in store

Additionally, cobots offer an opportunity to eliminate physical contact with another human being if it’s not necessary. This could be through handling customer services by answering customer questions and helping to navigate within stores, managing click & collect services and perhaps even driving our shopping trolleys!

Cobots are also playing a role in creating a unique and memorable experience in-store. The Tokinomo display is a good example. It uses built-in motion sensors to sense when a customer is nearby in a store. When triggered, it automatically initiates a chosen combination of motions, lights and sounds to make whatever product being displayed ‘jump off’ the shelves. This exciting, interactive display technology has been proven to increase sales.

The right robot for the job

Because cobots can ‘interact’ with humans, they can be programmed to learn from each interaction. This makes them increasingly more sophisticated, unlocking further customer service opportunities.

Cobots are also known for taking on repetitive and mundane tasks and completing them quicker and more efficiently than humans can. In the workplace, no matter the industry, this leaves human workers with more time to focus on more productive and valuable tasks. In retail, robotics can only be a good thing.

In conclusion, retail innovators are rethinking the in-store experience to ensure that it can hold its own in a digital world. Cobots and automation are really finding their place amongst this as a way to offer new and enhanced experiences to shoppers and create a buzz on the high street and in shopping centres once again.