The journey to automating retail stores has been challenging and slowly progressing. The current COVID-19 crisis is changing everything. It is not an exercise of proving return on investment to the different stakeholders; it is now about health and safety and then, how fast can you roll out.
Retailers are recognizing the importance of frictionless stores, be it robots, drones, fixed cameras or cashierless, the need for which will gain further traction after the coronavirus epidemic and the challenges it imposed on store labor. The store fulfillment to online ordering will only swell the demand.
This is a second chance for many of the solution providers. The automation solutions have been lagging for many reasons, some more obvious than others. This is an opportunity for all these providers to take advantage of the store rollout slowdown and focus on tightening and maturing their capabilities. Every robot has its own set of deficiencies that needs to be worked on. Capabilities to making the data collected actionable was an afterthought to many of the players. Now as reality sets in, it is becoming a key differentiator as retailers start to look beyond the hardware sizzle.
The short-term slowdown we are seeing will be quickly negated by a big rapid push from the larger retailers for faster rollouts once the virus clears. Others need to get in line and start committing to introducing these solutions into their stores that are becoming critical to their long-term survival. The pressure is on to deliver accurately, repeatably and reliably at scale.
Who is ready? The recent article I wrote here on WGB takes a high-level view of what robots are out there. Between robots, drones, fixed cameras or cashierless, what is right for you? After understanding your store environment and needs, start engaging the players with technologies best aligned with your requirements.
The days of never-ending proof of concepts are over. Serious players with matured solutions should be able to demonstrate their current capabilities and agility to deliver.