Today, robots have moved beyond traditional jobs such as assembling parts in the automobile and manufacturing industries. Robots are slowly becoming ubiquitous from the military to healthcare to retail, delivering newer efficiencies. These smart companions can positively impact the retail value chain when combined with digital forces such as cloud and analytics.
In the next 5-10 years, robots will likely play an important role throughout the retail value chain, including front-end and back-end operations. Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS), a unique model combining cloud computing, AI, robotics, and shared services, is becoming increasingly popular; like other shared services, it is convenient, cost-effective, and easy to implement.
Although the automotive industry favors robotics-as-a-service model, other industries, such as retail, are adopting it more frequently. RaaS presents a wide range of opportunities for big box and mid-market retailers. Big box retailers prefer robots for customer interaction to predict product demand and availability using analytics, while medium-sized retailers use them for basic stock monitoring and assessments. For better packaging and shipping operations, Amazon and other big box retailers like Walgreens, Staples, and Gap Inc. use robots in their distribution centers.
Warehousing and order fulfillment are also preparing for the “Robotics-as-a-Service model,” which they claim will improve operational effectiveness, raise the return on investment, and ultimately safeguard their initial investment. Here are a few possible use cases in customer assistance, employee assistance, and compliance audits.
- Robotic carts: Customers can be helped by a robotic shopping cart by directing them to the appropriate aisle. Additionally, it can automatically check out as customers add products to their carts or cancel the transaction when products are removed.
- Personalized engagement: Robots can act as shopping assistants in a fashion store by interpreting non-verbal cues from customers’ body language, gestures, and facial expressions to determine their personal preferences.
- Value-added service: For “in-demand services,” large retailers typically have separate counters. A variety of value-added services, including currency exchange, gift-wrapping, price comparisons, and the distribution of loyalty coupons, can be offered by robots.
- Faster fulfillment: Robots can be used in stores to quickly fulfill online orders, especially during busy times and the holiday season.
Compliance audits and routine checks
- Minimizing out-of-shelf scenarios: At least 25% of the items out of stock are present, just not on the appropriate shelf. Robots can be used to move continuously throughout the store, take pictures of the aisles and products, send alerts to a central system for lost items, empty shelves, and low stock situations, and automatically restock shelves.
- Ensuring planogram compliance: Robots can be used to automate planogram compliance and out-of-shelf (OOS) inspections, saving consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies tens of thousands of dollars. Robots can take pictures of the aisles and the products to learn more about how well they perform and to create planograms that are unique to each store.
- Mitigating shrinkage and theft: Based on the movement and eye blinking patterns of shoplifters and store employees, surveillance robots placed in stores can assist in identifying suspicious activity. To lessen theft, they can also take pictures of trespassers and notify the store manager.
The emergence of the Robotics-As-A-Service Business Model
A new business model where robots are issued as a service rather than a product can address the difficulty of deploying a fleet of robots, maintaining them, and integrating robotics with numerous databases throughout the retail value chain. The following are the benefits of the Robotics-As-A-Service (RaaS) business model, which is based on a RAC framework.
- Minimal upfront costs: The costs of employee adoption of an enterprise RAC platform are low because robots are programmed to carry out complex computations on a cloud server.
- Smarter networks: Robots are made to function as a component of an intelligent environment. This enables a smarter business network by allowing them to communicate with RFID antennas and surveillance cameras.
- Economies of scale: The RAC service provider can decrease the average cost of ownership by deploying a fleet of robots to support various business functions. Additional cost savings may be possible with the aid of technologies like resource sharing in the cloud.
- Easy upgrade of skills: Teaching a robot a new skill may be as straightforward as downloading a mobile app. As a result, learning new skills will take less time and effort, enabling robots to perform better more quickly.
The RaaS business model can give retailers chances to cut costs, increase organizational efficiency, improve customer experience, and boost profits in light of the growing emphasis on optimizing overheads.