May 5, 2021

Many Retailers See “No End in Sight” for Maintaining COVID-era Cleaning Standards

Gavin Donley
Gavin Donley

How long will retailers be forced to maintain elevated levels of cleanliness to alleviate consumer anxiety in the wake of the global pandemic?

The blunt assessment from many retailers is, “no end in sight.”

That’s one of the key takeaways from a recent RetailWire survey, sponsored by Brain Corp, examining retailers changing attitudes toward cleanliness and robotics in the wake of the health crisis. More than one third (36%) of retail participants said they expect no “end in sight” when asked how long they expect to incur the cost of elevated cleaning standards to meet heightened consumer expectations, while 53% anticipate doing so for another 6-18 months. Nearly 10% said they expect to maintain increased cleaning standards for between 18 months and three years. Only 3% said they expect it to dissipate within six months.

Turning to Commercial Floor Scrubber Solutions

Given these anticipated future costs, it’s perhaps no wonder then that retailers are seemingly more interested in robotic solutions than ever before, including robotic floor scrubbers, shelf-scanning units, autonomous tuggers and more. These self-driving solutions help defray costs and improve efficiencies by automating repetitive, labor-intensive tasks so workers can focus on higher value responsibilities.

Based on the results, a whopping 64% of retailers said it was important to have a clear, executable robotics strategy in place this year. Nearly half (47%) said they plan to have an in-store robotics project in place within 18 months — a figure RetailWire called “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,” RetailWire states in its survey-report, “Robots in Retail: Examining the Autonomous Opportunity.”

Cleaning-focused concerns topped the list of pandemic factors that demonstrably changed retailers’ attitudes toward in-store robotics. Fifty-six percent (56%) of respondents said the need to provide safer, cleaner stores for shoppers and employees was the #1 consideration that changed their opinion about the value of robotics. The need for social distancing ranked second with 47%, based on the survey results.

When it comes to cleaning, the largest portion of retailers (39%) are using a mix of in-house staff plus third-party contractors, while 33% say they are using primarily in-house staff. Twenty-eight percent are outsourcing their cleaning.

Going forward, however, retailers are expanding their view of in-store robotics beyond floor cleaning to include more data-focused capabilities that can help fuel future growth, including the ability to capture granular real-time data on products on shelves, pricing and compliance, and overall buying consumer buying patterns. When asked what robotic applications they think will be most effective for the future, 59% of retailers named scanning shelves for stock-outs as their top choice, followed by order picking (47%), moving product loads from the backroom to store shelves (35%), and pricing accuracy checks (35%).

All of this will translate into a sharp increase in robotic adoption across a variety of applications.

“Catalyzed by forces unleashed by the pandemic, autonomous robotic deployment in retail has sharply accelerated and appears to be on a path to reach mainstream adoption within the next two-to-three years,” according to the report.

To download the RetailWire survey and eBook, click here.

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