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 a 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.

Marty the Stop & Shop robot

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… 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.

Use cases for robots in stores

Robotics have been utilised by retailers in manufacturing floors, and in distribution warehouses to improve productivity and optimise 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 the 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 centre)

Robotics is one of the many ways retail stores are being digitised. Video analytics is another big one, being used to analyse 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 a 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 are currently writing titled “An Integrated Ecosystem to Solve 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. I’ll be sure to comment on this blog with the link when the white paper becomes publicly available! In the meantime, explore our edge computing landing page to learn more.


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The Changing Retail Scene

Why Retail Needs to Leverage Edge Computing Solutions

Retail IT Infrastructure

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Edge Data Centres have Arrived…

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From Edge to Enterprise Computing: Micro Data  Centres

Digital Modeling Edge Configurator Tool Helps Partners Deploy Edge Computing with Certainty



Electrician Wakefield

It’s an interesting concept merging Robotics and Retail, and definitely something which may take a bit of getting used to!
My question with regards this concept is: How do the robots interface with shoppers? Your example of “Marty” is slightly different, but you mentioned shelf stacking robots? Are the robots to be left stacking shelves whilst the shoppers are busy around them? Both electrically and mechanically speaking this could introduce possibilities of litigation from ‘injured shoppers’? Just a thought….

Lavina Dsouza

I agree it definitely takes some getting used to. There’s a lot of debate about the use of robots in retail.
Here’s a recent article I read. Some chains are moving forward, trying out new applications for automation and robotics, while others are limiting its use. There’s a lot to figure out in terms of the impact on customer experience. It will be interesting to watch this evolve over the coming years.

Kind regards,
Wendy Torell
Sr. Research Analyst, Data Center Science Center, Schneider Electric


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