The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Robotics In Retail: The Unassembled Truth


If you haven’t heard, we just published our first-ever robotics report, and at the risk of sounding like a braggadocios co-author: it’s pretty damned interesting.

We normally stay away from doing a report around a specific tech. Instead, we focus on a part of the business (merchandising, the supply chain, etc.) and then ask how technology fits into that space. But with robotics garnering so much attention in our industry lately, we figured, “Why not? Let’s see if we can’t find out what retailers really think, especially when they know the content of their input will remain completely anonymous.”

So we asked questions to find out how retailers perceive the improvements robotics and automation can make to their operations – and are they acting on these options now? What do these technologies mean for stores, both on the customer-facing side, and for back-office tasks? What does the next phase of this evolution look like?

Survey responses in the study quickly revealed a difference in views between Line-of-Business decision makers and IT leaders. Those differences became thematic to our analysis. Each group has its own naiveté, and each side also has some real pragmatic vision. This begs the question: who is going to drive the justification and implementation of robotic automation in retail? Those who seek to sell robotic technologies to retailers must make sure that the use cases presented are practical, pragmatic, and “ring true” to both Line-of-Business and IT executives.

  • The Business Challenges section of the resulting report reveals that with the increasing volume of eCommerce sales, over-performing “Retail Winners” in particular hope that robotics will help them respond to the dramatic increase in customer inquiries. Another top challenge that causes interest in robotics relates to inventory accuracy in the store. But as we often see in our studies, Winners stay focused on the customer experience, while average and under-performers tend to think about cost-cutting both in the stores and DCs.
  • In the Opportunities section, we learn thatretailers have a solid sense of the business areas they expect to see the greatest benefit from robotics and automation, especially in their distribution centers, both for shipping to stores and shipping direct to consumers. The store, however, is becoming a more enticing opportunity for retailers.
  • Once we reach the topic of Organizational Inhibitors, we learn that while the majority of retailers are concerned that their existing technology will not support robotics and automation, there is a split opinion between Line-of-Business leaders and IT executives about other inhibitors to adoption.
  • In the Technology Enablers section, retailers tell us that there is more immediate value from the adoption of robotics in the warehouse than anywhere else. However, IT’ers seem to be more aware of robotic usage to support specific warehouse processes than their business counterparts. When it comes to the store, IT’ers place higher value on the promise of robotics than business leaders, and some of those differences are notable.

This is just a quick flyover of the report, itself. The full thing is 21 pages long and has 16 charts. If you haven’t yet checked it out, you should – and it’s free!

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Articles & Opinions February 23, 2020
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