May 21, 2024

How robots are helping retail stores stay clean and stocked

From floor scrubbing to inventory management, robotic automation is transforming the retail industry. Here’s how.


How can robots address the challenges faced by the retail industry, in particular the ongoing labor shortage?

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can automate tasks such as remote site management, floor cleaning, and inventory management, freeing up human employees to focus on more value-added activities. By leveraging the power of AI and robotics, AMRs enable retailers to enhance operational efficiency, improve customer experience, and meet the demands of the modern retail landscape.

  • The current state of retail
  • Robots clean stores
  • Robots scan inventory and shelves
  • Multi-use robots can add on a new function easily
  • The future of retail robotics
  • Robots are revolutionizing retail

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers were forced to adapt and reinvent their strategies as consumer behaviors shifted towards new shopping and contactless experiences. 

At the same time, advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have opened up new possibilities for optimizing operations and enhancing customer experiences. The convergence of these two forces has created a pivotal moment for the retail sector, where adopting innovative technologies is no longer a choice but a necessity for survival and growth.

Currently, robots in retail is a catch-all term for AI-powered hardware performing tasks like scanning for empty shelves, inventory counting, reporting incorrect prices, and cleaning facilities. The technology is seeping into every facet of retail life, creating new efficiencies. 

Of the half of retail tasks that can currently be automated, retail watchers expect 70% to have an automation solution by 2025. What are these solutions, and what are they doing for retail?

The current state of retail

The retail industry faces a perfect storm of challenges in the post-COVID era. The rapid digitization of the industry has transformed consumer shopping behavior, with more customers now using the full omnichannel shopping experience. This shift has forced retailers to adapt and offer seamless experiences across various touchpoints quickly. It’s becoming increasingly clear that “winners in the sector will be those who understand these implications and act quickly to address them.” (McKinsey).

Retailers are also grappling with the significant costs associated with inventory management, which can account for a staggering 20-30% of total logistics costs. In today’s competitive market, effective inventory management is no longer a luxury but a necessity for meeting customer demands, minimizing costs, and maximizing profitability.

To make matters worse, labor struggles have become a major concern for retailers. Finding and retaining employees who can perform essential tasks has become increasingly difficult, leading to staff shortages and increased labor costs. This has further exposed the inefficiencies in processes like manual inventory management and floor cleaning, often resulting in lost opportunities to increase productivity, revenue, and customer experiences. 

As if that weren’t enough, customer expectations have also evolved in the post-COVID world. Consumers now expect real-time accuracy regarding stock availability, diverse delivery options, and enhanced in-store experiences. Inventory accuracy has become critical to successful order fulfillment operations in this environment. Retailers must prioritize inventory management to avoid stockouts, reduce costs, and maintain customer satisfaction, or risk losing out to competitors who can deliver on these fronts. The combination of these factors has created a challenging landscape for retailers, necessitating innovative solutions to stay competitive and meet the demands of the modern consumer. Retailers must find ways to navigate the challenges of the post-COVID era, adapting their strategies and operations to meet the evolving needs of their customers while maintaining operational efficiency and profitability. It’s a tall order, but those who rise to the occasion will be well-positioned to thrive in the new retail reality.

Robots clean stores

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have transformed floor cleaning in retail stores. These robots have advanced sensors and AI algorithms that enable them to navigate store layouts, avoid obstacles, and clean floors efficiently. The advantages of using robot floor cleaners are substantial, as they increase labor efficiencies and ensure consistent cleanliness throughout the store.

One notable example of a retail chain that has embraced this technology is the grocery chain Albert, one of the leading retail brands in the Czech Republic and a subsidiary of Ahold Delhaize. The company sought to advance its cleaning operations to yield more efficient, consistent, and high-quality results, surpassing its already exceptional standards.

In 2022, Albert began deploying BrainOS®-powered Tennant autonomous scrubbers in its hypermarkets and a few of its distribution centers. In less than a year, the fleet of over 40 autonomous scrubbers cleaned over 20 million square meters (215 million square feet) and completed over 92,000 cleaning routes. Given its success, Albert decided to almost double its fleet of autonomous robots operating in their stores during 2023.

Pavel Klemera, Albert’s Operations Support Manager, noted: “Our fleet of BrainOS-powered Tennant T380AMR and T7AMR autonomous scrubbers clean precisely, don’t skip any space, and help our employees save their effort so they can use the time to elevate our customers’ experience.”

Robots scan inventory and shelves

Inventory management is another area where AMRs are making a significant impact. Robots with computer vision and AI can scan shelves, identify out-of-stock items, and ensure accurate inventory counts. Inventory accuracy is only 63% in the US, and out-of-stock items lead to an estimated $634.1 billion in annual losses for retailers. By employing inventory robots, retailers can improve accuracy, reduce stockouts, and optimize their supply chain. This accurate, timely intelligence ultimately ensures store associates can keep the right product on the right shelf at the right price for their customers.

For example, Sam’s Club announced it completed a national, chain-wide rollout of ‘Inventory Scan’ technology in 2022 to “help associates ensure products are out for sale, priced correctly and findable, ultimately making it easier to engage directly with our members,” said Todd Garner, Vice President of In-Club Product Management.

Since deployment, Sam’s Club has shared the benefits of deploying its inventory-scanning AMR fleet to engage with budget-conscious shoppers and take on its competitors.

Multi-use robots can add on a new function easily

One key advantage of AMRs is their ability to adapt to new functions by integrating additional sensors and technologies. For example, robots equipped with RFID readers can scan and locate items on shelves and track missing items. As IoT and RFID technologies advance, robots can leverage these signals to enhance their capabilities and perform more complex tasks.

In the future, robots may also incorporate other sensing technologies, such as temperature detection, to monitor and maintain optimal conditions for perishable goods. While RFID is already being utilized, these future possibilities showcase the potential for robots to address a wide range of retail challenges.

The future of retail robotics

As technology advances, robots are expected to take on even more futuristic functions in the retail industry. 

For instance, research labs are leveraging GenAI techniques to tackle challenges in robotic manipulation, such as efficiently picking items from shipping cartons and placing them on shelves. These breakthroughs will enable robots to not only gather shelf data but also restock and organize items accurately. This could further improve product availability, enable perfectly optimized shelves for faster shopping trips, and free up employees to focus on higher-value tasks like customer service—a recipe for increased efficiency, lower costs, and happier shoppers.

As the retail landscape continues to evolve, integrating robotics and AI will become increasingly essential for retailers to remain competitive. By embracing these technologies, retailers can improve operational efficiency and enhance the customer experience, creating a more engaging and personalized shopping journey.

Robots are revolutionizing retail

Robots help keep stores clean and shelves stocked, but the technology that creates these helpers can also assist retailers with functions from warehousing to shipping and beyond. Robots are a solution not just to the problems of cleanliness and inventory but to many of the issues that stem from labor shortages, inefficiencies, and growing customer expectations in hybrid digital and brick-and-mortar environments. They free employees to do thoughtful, customer-facing work that helps solve problems and develop relationships. Not only do robots contribute to a better culture, but they are also contributing to a better bottom line.

Brain Corp empowers retail businesses with cutting-edge AMRs and AI to keep retail spaces clean, shelves stocked, and retailers trimming inefficiencies so they can realize their goals. Contact us for a personalized assessment of what retail robots can do for you.

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Photo by michal dziekonski on Unsplash
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