Robots in Retail are Real… and so is Edge Computing

I’ve seen plenty of articles touting the promise of edge computing technologies like AI and robotics in retail brick & mortar, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I had my first encounter with an actual robot in a retail store. I was doing my usual weekly grocery shopping at my local Stop & Shop, and who comes strolling down the aisle, but…. Marty… the autonomous robot. He was friendly looking with his big googly eyes and was wearing a sign that explained he was there for safety, and that he was monitoring the aisles to report spills, debris, and other hazards to employees to improve my shopping experience. He caught the attention of most of the shoppers.

At the National Retail Federation conference in NY that I attended in January, this was a topic of one of the panel sessions. It all makes sense… a positive customer experience is critical to retail success. But employee-to-customer (human to human) interaction has also been proven important. That’s where Marty comes in… to free up resources spent on tedious, time consuming tasks so that personnel can spend more time directly helping customers.

Marty the Stop & Shop robot
Marty- The Stop & Shop Robot

Use cases for robots in stores

Robotics have been utilized by retailers in manufacturing floors, and in distribution warehouses to improve productivity and optimize business processes along the supply chain. But it is only more recently that we’re seeing them make their way into the retail store front, where they are in contact with the customers. Alerting to hazards in the aisles is just one of many use-cases for the robots. They can also be used to scan and re-stock shelves, or as general information sources and greeters upon entering the store to guide your shopping experience. But how does a retailer justify the investment in this type of technology? Determining your ROI isn’t as cut and dry as in a warehouse environment, for example, where costs are directly tied to number of staff, time to complete tasks, etc… I guess time will tell for the retailers that are giving it a go.

What does it mean for the IT equipment on-premise (micro data center)

Robotics are one of the many ways retail stores are being digitized. Video analytics is another big one, being used to analyze facial expressions for customer satisfaction, obtain customer demographics as input to product development, or ensure queue lines don’t get too long. My colleague, Patrick Donovan, wrote a detailed blog post about our trip to NRF and the impact on the physical infrastructure in the stores. In a nutshell, the equipment on-premise is becoming more mission critical, more integrated to business applications in the cloud, more tied to positive customer-experiences… and with that comes the need for more secure, more available, more manageable edge. But this is easier said than done in an environment that generally has no IT staff on-premise, and with hundreds or potentially thousands of stores spread out geographically. So how do we address this?

We answer this question in a white paper that Patrick and I wrote entitled “ Solving Edge Computing Infrastructure Challenges”.  Here’s a hint, (1) an integrated ecosystem of partners, and (2) an integrated micro data center that emerges from the ecosystem. Explore our edge computing landing page to learn more.

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