Monday, February 22, 2016

Robots in Retail

RFID technology has been popping up more and more in retail. This time German clothing brand, Adler, is using RFID inside a robot to do faster and more efficient inventory checks. In addition to its inventory capabilities, Tory, as the robot is named, can use its touchscreen to locate any item a customer is looking for. 
In all of Adler's stores, all merchandise is tagged with UHF RFID tags. Previously before Tory, an employee would go around using a scanner to do inventory. However, with Tory's camera and laser based system it can navigate the store and do inventory checks on its own ten times faster. A robot similar to Tory and made by MetraLabs has been around since 2009, however at the time, there were not enough stores using RFID-enabled tags to be beneficial. Adler started using Tory in October 2015. To date, there are more than 200 MetraLab robots being used in various companies. Adler, specifically, plans on remaining in the test run phase with up to ten robots until they can analyze its performance and benefits. 
Tory's inventory paths can be set up using remote control or smartphone. However, the favored method is by pushing Tory as it memorizes the given path around the store. After Tory is configured it is capable of navigating the path even when people or objects are in the way. The robot can use an algorithm to change routes to avoid objects, while not leaving any inventory unchecked.
Tory is also self-sufficient. Tory can be started and stopped at any time. Through a long work day, Tory can charge itself up without having to be done by an employee. In Adler's stores, Tory is used at night when employees are not working to do inventory. While during the day, Tory works as a sales assistant. However, Adler emphasizes Tory isn't there to replace sales associates. Tory is there to help find items, not sell items. 
One thing that was failed to be mentioned was Tory's storage capabilities. Tory can read up to 250 tags in one second which are then transferred via wifi to a database. However, if wifi is down Tory is capable link to the database using a cord. With 250 tags a second how many tags is Tory capable of holding at night before an employee can transfer the information in the morning?
Additionally, when it comes to customers using Tory to find items, how will customers know the exact name to be typed into the system? While shopping customers may be looking for the black shirt in the front window, but what are they supposed to type in Tory for that specific shirt?
Lastly, if many people are looking for specific items, how long will it take for Tory to help all customers in need? Is Tory a good idea for human interaction during the shopping experience or is it just a good idea for inventory checking?


  1. I think the new RFID technology will be a great advantage to any retail store that decides to use it. The key feature about “Tory”, is her speed to get things done around the store. This robot has the ability to accomplish tasks much faster than a human retail worker could and therefore Tory helps the store proceed in a more efficient manner. Taking inventory is a long and boring process for any retail store, but if there was a way to speed up the process and avoid the hassle of doing it manually, I can’t see why any retail store wouldn’t want to invest. In addition, if Tory can find items in the store faster than a human can, she saves the associate valuable time. Instead of a sales associate walking around the store searching for an item, Tory can find and retrieve the shirt much quicker. This leaves time for the sales associate to be more attentive to clients who need personal attention or open up another register to speed up the line.

    With this new technology, I believe the shopping experience can become much quicker and more efficient. Many people do not enjoy shopping because of the time and energy that is spent trying to get the job done. However, if the process can become quicker and more efficient, clients will enjoy their experience more. In addition, each customer will be able to receive more individualized attention from sales associates because they will be less busy searching around the store for items. Therefore, I truly feel these robots will make shopping a more pleasant experience for the shopper and make sales associates’ jobs easier.

    If clients are having a better experience shopping and if sales associates have more time to dedicate to their clients, it will result in increased sales and ultimately increased profits. Having a pleasant or unpleasant experience at a store is a huge motivator for a shopper to want to return to or specifically avoid it. However, if a customer leaves the store with a pleasant and speedy experience, they are more than likely to return to that store and become a loyal customer. I really think all retail stores should invest in these robots because they will increase customer frequency and loyalty which will result in increased sales. Not the mention all the time the stores will save by not having to track inventory on their own time.

  2. Hi Tyler,
    I found what you had to say about the article to be very interesting. I too did my blog on a topic very similar to yours. The RFID technology is very new but definitely an advantage for retail stores. It will improve their customer service as well as make their experience more pleasurable. I know for myself shopping can be a pain and somewhat frustrating. With the assistance from a robot like Tory I could get in and out of stores faster and have more success in finding what I need. This also benefits the employees by making the store more organized and also helps them with major task such as checking inventory. This will allow day to day operations run more smoothly in those stores that decide to use this new technology. Although I think this could be a great addition and advantage for retail stores, I too agree with you that there is some concern regarding it. Some individuals might not feel comfortable with asking a robot for help. It is a very new idea and foreign to most people so it will take time for people to get used to it.

  3. The new technology that develops these robots are so advanced at this stage, that it does not surprise me that they could take the place of a worker. Beyond just the retail industry, in many industries the new robots can replace workers in jobs that are undesirable to many, due to their human like capabilities. Having worked in a retail store, I find this idea particularly interesting. In the retail industry the robot is replacing one of the most undesirable tasks: inventory. Inventory is hard both on the workers, who have to stay late after closing, and the boss, who has to pay the workers overtime. If it is a larger store, they may hire someone else regularity to do inventory rather than the full time staff, but this is still an expense to the boss. I do think a robot would only be useful in a larger store. In a smaller boutique the one time expense of buying a robot would be too high, rather than paying a couple of employees over time a few times a year to manually check inventory.
    I do find a few problems with this idea. First of all, I do believe that robots will mainly only be useful behind the scenes, completing tasks such as inventory. They could take a person to an item, but in the retail world it is more important for that individual who would take someone to an item to be able to answer any questions they may have, or to close the sale. A robot could possibly have a button to press for a sales associate to come over for help, but they will not be able to sell the item. Also, if a customer is shopping for an event, it would be something you would want to explain in detail to a sales associate and then they could bring you to items they would think you would like; a robot could not make these types of recommendations. Another problem is that robots may be replacing undesirable jobs, but they are still jobs that some people need. Despite that the jobs may not be enjoyable many people need these in order to make ends meet. If the robots take away these jobs, not just in the retail industry but also in other industries, there could be a rise in unemployment.


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