Retail success can be boiled down to two factors, managing people and inventory. Often these two are intertwined, as without people retailers have zero visibility to their inventory positions in their stores. Over the past year, we have seen customer service robots roll down the aisles, such as Chloe at BestBuy and OshBOT at Lowe’s. While these interfaces are cute at best, they have yet to solve a real billion dollar problem…
Earlier this week a new type of retail robot was launched from Simbe Robotics that seeks to address one of the most strategically important (though admittedly boring) aspects of selling physical products on shelves in the 21st century: shelf auditing and product analytics.
“When it comes to the retail industry, shopper experience is everything,” says Brad Bogolea, CEO and Co-founder of Simbe Robotics. “If a product is unavailable at the time the shopper wants to buy it, the retailer has missed an opportunity and disappointed their customer.”
That’s not just some “user experience” mumbo jumbo to move robots. Global retailers lose nearly $450 billion annually as a result of out-of-stock items and empty shelves.
IT solutions, bolstered by scanner guns and armies of bright-vested minimum wage employees, have been the solution to date, and that goes some of the way toward explaining why brick and mortar stores have taken a beating in the first full flowering of internet retail. The work of auditing shelves, crucial though it is, tends to be repetitive, boring, and never-ending, ingredients that make employees performing those tasks error prone.
Simbe’s solution is a mobile robot that can autonomously maneuver through large brick and mortar retail environments to “capture, report, and analyze the state and availability of merchandise and help ensure compliance with the store’s planogram — the ideal placement of products on shelves in order to maximize sales,” according to a company statement.
Tally stands 38 inches tall, and has an adjustable and modular mast of sensors for capturing shelf data. The overall height is variable, depending on the retailer’s shelf height requirements. Tally weighs approximately 30 lbs. and can be easily moved to an optimal docking location within a retail store’s floor plan.
Tally is equipped with a charging dock that it can autonomously navigate back to between scans allowing for continuous operation. The robot includes a suite of sensors enabling it to operate reliably and safely in retail environments while capturing information on the state of merchandise in the store. The data captured by the robot is sent securely to the cloud for processing and analysis. The data is then exposed through both an API and front-end application alongside specific recommendations to improve store performance to key stakeholders.
Additionally, Tally can be integrated into the retailers’ existing IT systems. Tally is built upon the open source Robot Operating System (ROS).
Tally audits shelves for out-of-stock, low stock, and misplaced items, and can spot pricing errors and items that aren’t facing the right direction, a big deal in retail. Advanced route planning and sense-and-avoid technology enables the robot to operate safely during business hours alongside shoppers and employees.
While the price remains undisclosed on the company’s website, we do know the startup (founded in 2014) is backed by leading investors such as Lemnos Labs and SOSV of San Francisco, CA.