The Retail Robot Battle Continues

A look at the players leading in grocery
Photograph: Shutterstock

The pandemic certainly had an impact on our lives and so it did for robots. As people gradually get back to the new normal, robots are waking up to new realities—some have faded away, while others have emerged stronger. In this second of a four-part series, I explore the battle of robots at retail and where this technology is headed.

Currently third-generation Tally from Simbe, a very sleek and slim looking robot, has the most rollouts to grocery retailers globally—they have done an admirable job planting their flag in a large number of retailers, mostly regional. Although the growth within each retailer has been slow, the pace seems to be picking up. The question is, can they scale rapidly globally and still deliver?

While the St. Louis, Mo.-based Schnucks has hitched its wagon to Simbe, its rollout—across multiple years and a total of 111 stores—is yet to be completed. Simbe says it plans to reach the 111 store-count by end of year, which would be remarkable. When it is complete, they should be able to leverage the learnings and pick up the pace.

Simbe’s success will depend on the level of accuracy and granular level of data they are able to deliver and accuracy levels at scale. Results are largely unknown based on a low store-count implementation at one retailer.

A late entry into the field, Zebra is the result of years of observation of the robots emerging from the startup space. The Lincolnshire, Ill.-based company watched and waited before taking the plunge and building its own robot.

With an over fifty-year strong technology presence in the retail space, one that is entrenched in store operations, a new portfolio is emerging with the promise to deliver end-to-end from warehouse to store. Zebra is accomplishing this organically and with strategic acquisitions to rapidly build on the SmartSight solutions and other technologies currently widely in use at most retailers throughout the supply chain.

Acquisitions like Fetch Robotics for warehouse automation or Antuit.ai, ensure customers have the right product at the right place at the right price, based on current supply chain and store conditions.

Finally, they are a vendor that realizes robots are only one piece of the puzzle—part of the solution layer that makes the data usable and actionable. They may be behind in robot maturity in stores, but they are way ahead in the overall strategizing to deliver a complete solution.

The Zebra team has been transparent with me about limited retail robotic deployments. They are building a massive solution that in my opinion, if done right, will be able to freeze the market and could own the space. “Businesses want a suite of workflow solutions from one strategic partner that can provide for all their requirements. Zebra delivers on that vision from its robotics solutions to mobile computers and barcode scanners,” says Jim Lawton, VP and GM of Robotics Automation at Zebra Technologies.

Read more on how Walmart has pushed pause on robots.

Georges Mirza develops retail/CPG market-leading industry changing solutions. He has led the charge and established the roadmap for robotic indoor data collection, image recognition and analytics for retail to address out of stock, inventory levels and compliance. He currently advises companies on how to strategize and prioritize their roadmaps for growth. Follow him on LinkedInTwitter or contact him directly by email.



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