Grocery Robots Take the Floor at Woodman's

Autonomous robots monitor product availability, location, price
Photograph courtesy of Badger Technologies

Woodman’s Markets is deploying a fleet of multipurpose robots to monitor product availability, verify prices and deliver precise location data for the 100,000 items in the 240,000-square-foot stores, which are about six times larger than the average supermarket. The robots, from Badger Technologies, a product division of Jabil, should be in all 18 Woodman’s locations in Illinois and Wisconsin by the end of the year.

Badger Retail InSight is part of an automation solution that would enable Woodman’s to elevate store execution, lower operational costs and increase store profits, the companies said.

Clint Woodman, president of the Janesville, Wis.-based, employee-owned retailer, said the company was looking for help with price accuracy, out-of-stocks and perhaps most importantly, where customers could find the products in its massive locations. Badger said its autonomous robots detect out-of-stock items with more than 95% accuracy. Incorrect and mispriced products are identified with over 90% accuracy, while current product locations can be discerned within a 4-foot section of aisles that typically extend more than 100 feet.

“Woodman’s is committed to having the widest variety of groceries at the best prices, unlike other superstores that sell everything from bikes to bananas,” Woodman said. “Badger’s robots are helping us fulfill this mission with real-time inventory visibility that yields analytics and actionable data insights to inform our business decisions.”

The ability to automate storewide shelf scans for out-of-stocks and price compliance helps eliminate arduous manual tasks, especially given each store’s large floor space; a task that often gets pushed aside during busy times when performed by humans, noted Tim Rowland, CEO of Badger. Additionally, Woodman’s can take advantage of critical trending data to better forecast and manage commodities and vendors with frequent stock issues.

The robots also keep track of item locations, enabling Woodman’s to integrate daily updates into its mobile shopping app to help customers, online order pickers and store associates quickly find products. This automated process also is proving essential to collaborations with pricing departments, improving the prioritization of replenishment lists and assessing planogram compliance, officials said. These solutions provide a more robust ROI for retailers amid the accelerated pace of change across the retail landscape in 2020.

Rowland notes that about 500 Badger robots have been implemented in several retail locations—most deployed in the retail brands of Ahold Delhaize USA, where they are currently deployed to detect hazards on store floors and are known as “Marty.” With the addition of Woodman’s, the company is now looking at how smaller retailers can also benefit from the investment.

“When you start to get to a 20,000- or 30,000-square-foot grocery stores, unless the robot’s doing a couple things, that’s probably the lower limit,” Rowland said in an interview with WGB. “But that’s the reason we’ve started adding a combination of things. We actually have a model that does both floor inspection and shelf inspection.”

The robots can also be programmed to check endcaps for proper product placement. The key is the robots have multipurpose functions and can perform multiple tasks, much like an associate, Rowland said, including the types of tasks that maybe have fallen by the wayside during the pandemic, such as price compliance, especially since many retailers have done away with promotions and out-of-stocks as the number of online orders have skyrocketed.

Rowland adds that some in the industry were concerned that the robots would eliminate jobs, but the companies that have installed them have found that they are performing tasks that were not easily performed by humans because they were time-consuming or tedious and have actually made it easier for humans to do their jobs by generating more efficient lists of the tasks that need to be completed.

“These are not attractive jobs that were potentially augmenting or displacing,” Rowland said. “So as an example, we think the robot’s job would be to generate a replenishment list so that when the human starts the shift, they know exactly that it’s aisle seven that needs more Pepsi, and aisle eight needs more snack chips.”



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