- Midwestern chain Schnucks Markets is testing its first front-of-store robot, according to the St. Louis Post –Dispatch. Tally, the 38-inch tall robot, will scan shelves for low inventory and price errors.
- Tally is the creation of San Francisco-based Simbe Robotics, which has placed similar robots in other grocery stores, dollar stores and a Target.
- Schnucks, which operates nearly 100 stores in five states, will test out Tally in three Missouri stores. If it’s successful, they’ll consider further expansion.
Tally, the 30 pound robot which resembles an elongated humidifier, will help Schnucks keep its shelves stocked and ready for customers. This real-time data, which Tally sends directly to store management, has the potential to increase sales. Billed as safe and reliable, it could also prove a novel concept that draws customers to stores in hopes of seeing the robot at work.
Grocery stores could see an uptick in purchases, but the industry that really stands to win is the same group which primarily funded this new technology: Large CPG companies. Shoppers may stray from their favorite brands if the shelf is empty — a problem which Tally is designed to solve.
Consumer reaction to this technology will likely be mixed. The novelty of seeing a robot zooming around store aisles could incentivize shoppers — especially those with children — to go see Tally. Conversely, consumers may spurn the idea, seeing Tally as creation that takes jobs away from humans. Even though Tally has built-in sensors that keep it away from crowed aisles, it could also be seen as an obstacle to get around during peak shopping hours.
During its pilot phase, Simbe Robotics will have a representative in-store who can detect if Tally has been picked up or moved. Whether this is motivation enough to discourage robot abuse or vandalism is yet to be seen. A similar data-collecting, hitchhiking robot created by a Canadian research team met an untimely end in Philadelphia in 2015, just weeks into its U.S. journey. Surveillance cameras and store employees will be on their guard to deliver a safer environment for Tally.
This will mark a significant change to the customer’s shopping experience, but the question is will it improve or detract from it. People tend to be comfortable with artificial intelligence they can control, like a smartphone or Nest surveillance camera. However, robots that act independently and in the place of humans have the potential to spook or turn off customers.
If Tally is a success for Schnucks, expect to see more shelf-scanning robots rolling out in stores. This front-of-store robotics is still fairly new territory. Amazon has had success with their battalion of behind-the-scenes robots, but customers don’t see a robot when they pick up a Prime package waiting on the front step.