June 17, 2024

The new math: how AI robotics aligns safety and productivity in retail

Both safety and productivity can be improved simultaneously through AI and robotics.


How can retailers enhance safety without compromising productivity?

Despite the common belief that safety and productivity are at odds, new AI-powered robots are proving otherwise. These machines handle repetitive tasks like inventory checks and floor cleaning, reducing workplace injuries while freeing up staff for customer service. For retailers struggling with labor shortages and rising costs, this technology offers a way to create safer stores and boost efficiency without sacrificing either.

  • Transforming retail operations with autonomous mobile robots
  • Retail robots show that safety and productivity can both improve
  • Clean, safe, and efficient: the trifecta of autonomous retail cleaning
  • Lessons from the pandemic: the indispensable role of AMRs in retail resilience
  • Embracing the AMR advantage for a competitive edge in retail

Safety and productivity are often seen as opposing forces in the retail industry. The argument goes that cutting safety protocols can boost productivity by reducing time spent on safety checks, allowing workers to stay focused, move faster, and accomplish more. In this mindset, there’s no “winning” at both safety and productivity simultaneously.

However, with retailers currently incurring over $1 billion per week for workplace injuries and the potential for productivity gains to boost the GDP by $10 trillion, it’s time to reframe this discussion. By leveraging AI and robotics, retailers can significantly reduce safety risks and accidents, leading to substantial cost savings while simultaneously increasing productivity.

Transforming retail operations with autonomous mobile robots

Retail businesses are tasked with the complex and often contradictory responsibilities of prioritizing employee and customer well-being, optimizing inventory management to prevent stockouts, ensuring prices are accurately displayed and charged, and making products easily accessible to shoppers. Many factors associated with safety and productivity, such as cleanliness, organization, and efficiency, are important to customers when choosing where to shop, highlighting the tough job retailers have in front of them.

The inventory management side has traditionally relied heavily on manual processes, which can expose workers to repetitive strain injuries and ergonomic issues from performing inventory tasks at various heights. In a sector already contending with labor shortages and stiff competition for talent, prioritizing a safe working environment is more imperative than ever.

Despite these challenges, customer expectations around inventory accuracy and efficiency continue to climb. The advent of e-commerce and omnichannel retailing has escalated consumer demands for seamless online and in-store experiences. This shift requires retailers to maintain real-time insight into inventory levels and adapt to fluctuating demands, a task that can be effectively managed with the integration of AI and robotics.

Retail robots show that safety and productivity can both improve

Integrating technologies like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in retail operations allows retailers to navigate these challenges successfully. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) underscores the value of utilizing robots to undertake repetitive and potentially hazardous tasks, thereby diminishing the likelihood of worker injuries.

Robots transform retail by leveraging computer vision and AI technologies to automate and optimize inventory management processes. These robots can navigate around obstacles, handle materials, and operate quietly to avoid disrupting the shopping experience.

Similarly, autonomous floor scrubbers are revolutionizing retail cleaning operations. Equipped with advanced sensors and intelligent navigation systems, these robots ensure consistent, thorough cleaning coverage while freeing human workers to focus on higher-value tasks.

By automating inventory management and floor cleaning, robots are achieving what was once considered impossible in retail: simultaneously elevating safety and productivity. AMRs act as “safety equipment,” reducing the risk of worker injuries associated with repetitive tasks. At the same time, they drive significant productivity gains, enabling retailers to accomplish more with their existing workforce.

Recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics findings serve as a powerful call to action for retailers to prioritize the adoption of autonomous mobile robots. With the retail sector facing the second-highest number of work injuries and illnesses among private industries, the time to act is now. By integrating AMRs into their operations, retailers can proactively address these challenges and position themselves for a safer, more productive future.

Current implementations of retail robots are already making a significant impact:

  • They act as a new kind of “safety equipment” that can mitigate common accidents and injuries in retail
  • By automating repetitive tasks, these robots allow human workers to focus on higher-value activities that require creativity, problem-solving, and customer interaction
  • According to Deloitte, 90% of business leaders say AI and intelligent devices are very important to their teams’ success and performance
  • The European Parliament forecasts an 11-37% increase in workplace productivity from AI and robotics technology

Clean, safe, and efficient: the trifecta of autonomous retail cleaning

In addition to inventory robots, autonomous floor scrubbers and other cleaning robots are categorically improving how retailers maintain clean, safe environments. By automating cleaning tasks, these robots reduce human fatigue and injuries caused by repetitive motions. But the benefits extend far beyond that:

  • Robots ensure unmatched consistency in cleaning, effectively minimizing risks associated with viruses, chemicals, and spills, thereby protecting workers and customers even amid labor challenges.
  • Using autonomous floor scrubbers results in higher operational uptime and more frequent cleaning, which leads to safer environments
  • Unlike human operators, cleaning robots don’t get distracted or fatigued. Their predictable, precise movements minimize the risk of collisions that could lead to personal injuries, equipment damage, or facility damage.

As Brain Corp CEO Davin Pinn puts it: “Our automation solutions assist in tasks like floor cleaning and data collection, making processes more efficient. Put more simply, we exist to help retailers put the right product on the right shelf at the right price within a clean environment. By using autonomy in these areas, we help retailers free up store associates for more valuable assignments, like providing friendly customer service.”

The compounding upsides of automated cleaning create a safer environment that human cleaning alone simply can’t match, especially with the efficiency gains that allow for more frequent and thorough cleaning without increasing labor.

Lessons from the pandemic: the indispensable role of AMRs in retail resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic further underscored the vital role of robotic cleaners in maintaining public health and safety. As businesses sought to reassure customers and encourage their return, autonomous solutions provided a visible commitment to enhanced sanitation.

Robotic scrubbers with Brain Corp’s BrainOS® Clean Suite have been deployed in high-traffic locations such as retail stores and airports to disinfect surfaces efficiently.

Beyond keeping spaces cleaner, AMRs have also supported productivity by freeing workers to focus on other critical tasks while maintaining social distancing. As the world adjusts to the new normal, the value of robotic automation for both safety and operational efficiency is more apparent than ever.

Embracing the AMR advantage for a competitive edge in retail

Integrating AI and robotics in retail inventory management and store cleaning offers a unique opportunity to enhance safety and productivity simultaneously. With these cutting-edge technologies, retailers can create work environments that prioritize employee well-being while optimizing operational efficiency.

By reframing the traditional view of safety and productivity as competing priorities, retailers can leverage autonomous robots to achieve a true win-win scenario. AMRs allow retailers to maintain the highest safety standards without sacrificing speed, accuracy, or efficiency. In fact, robots’ consistency and reliability often lead to productivity gains that wouldn’t be possible with human labor alone.

As more retailers adopt this dual approach of using AMRs to elevate both safety and productivity, it will become a competitive advantage and then an industry standard. Those who embrace this technology early will not only be well-positioned to exceed customer expectations and attract top talent but also to lead the way in the rapidly evolving world of retail.

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Photo by michal dziekonski on Unsplash
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