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Robotics takes over retail

The world is changing rapidly. What just forty years ago was suggested as science fiction now belongs to the real world and also establishes new ways of living, generating other needs. As part of this progress, today the commercial sector is implementing robotics as part of the customer experience, in a trend that is rapidly intensifying.


Growing exigence has significantly altered consumer habits and forced retailers to change their business models. A huge increase in demand and demanding supply has prompted the automation of small retailers, creating added value.


Robotics in retail
Robotics in retail

It is a fact that the retail industry is turning to this type of automated technology to position itself against its competitors. The use of robots ensures low costs and that requests are handled more promptly and effectively.


The French technology consulting firm Capgemini estimated that, by 2022, the retail sector would save up to USD $340 million annually by automating key processes such as returns, supply chain, customer databases, inventory, among others. Perhaps the simplest way to implement this overhaul is through Robotic Process Automation (RPA).


robotics and retail


Robotics is a branch of mechatronics, although these two terms tend to be used interchangeably. Increasingly, the use of robots in the industry is revolutionizing the way processes are managed, optimizing many factors and minimizing production and processing costs.


Retail is not exempt from this reality. In many places, substantial changes can be seen in the dynamics of work processes. One of these overwhelming changes is related to the use of robots in warehouse logistics.


Giant companies like Amazon and Ocado Technology manage their logistics centers in a fully automated manner, as these are huge places with hundreds of robots transporting goods in astonishingly large spaces minute by minute.


However, in recent times, the online market has been gaining ground, and with it, much of this technology has started to shift its course. Many online and physical retailers have decided to create their own robotic systems in their warehouses, adapting to their commercial needs and spaces: instead of occupying the space of several soccer fields, they can easily fit into a small warehouse or store.


Due to the increasing demands of consumers, many have been driven to automate their small businesses and distribute themselves in small, compact warehouses in multiple locations, using robotics in their logistics. This modular concept has meant an advancement in store retail.


The new trend of robotic mannequins


Not only logistics and store maintenance have benefited from robotic use. Retail, seeking its survival amidst large industries and overcoming the effects of global health issues, has had to make greater use of robotics.


The online industry has skyrocketed, and at this point, "automation is necessary to survive." This was expressed by Scott Gravelle, CEO of Attabotics, a Canadian company dedicated to robotization for small-scale businesses.


Indeed, robots are not simply mechanical arms that move containers or products around. As depicted in many movies about humanoids and AI, robotics has produced machines with human-like forms capable of imitating the movements and gestures of their models.


Robotics and marketing
Robotics and marketing

These robotic mannequins, some of them life-sized, would be the updated and vastly improved version of their predecessors, the completely static and glossy mannequins that are commonly seen in almost every physical store.


Japan leads the way in the robotic mannequin industry and has released several versions to the market, from the early ones that lacked legs and moved from the waist up, to the more humanoid ones that can wink, smile, and even have certain interactions with the public.


These advanced machines are capable of measuring the age, gender, and shopping behaviors of customers, which constitutes progress in marketing research without resorting to market surveys. Additionally, they can be crafted based on a valued human model, such as an actress, which magnifies their aesthetic use and thereby boosts sales.


Robotic mannequins and retail sales


But, what is retail? Perhaps at this moment it is necessary to emphasize the meaning of retail. Small shopkeepers would be the most appropriate translation, although medium-sized industry can also fit into this category.


The reason for defining the term "retail" has its explanation. Faced with growing technological demand, the adaptation of this sector has been forced, which could lead to the possibility of this negatively impacting sales and the continuity of retail work.


Today, some cutting-edge technologies have been installed in certain retail stores, such as beacons, 3D virtual reality, and, of course, robotic mannequins.


These latter ones capture the attention of users and serve for demonstrating garments, as an attraction for the public, and as a first-hand aesthetic element.


Since their introduction to the market, robots that act as mannequins have added functions to the traditional ones, some of them very interesting. For example, the ability to adapt to the sizes of customers or to capture the behavior of those who enter the store through sensors.


Robotic manequins
Robotic manquins

According to Fits.me, a website founded by two engineers from Estonia, they have the first "virtual fitting room" in history, which allows consumers to try on clothes through a mannequin that can change its shape to fit 2000 different body shapes.


Several retailers based in Europe, including Thomas Pink and Barbour (which have physical stores in DC), have started using technology on their websites.


According to the Fits.me website, stores using the technology have seen a 57% increase in sales and a 28% reduction in returns.


One might think that such high technology only corresponds to large companies. However, retail companies are increasingly approaching their giant counterparts and, from their own reality, they are modifying their spaces and operational methods in order to adapt to the demands of the modern world.


Retail startups have also gained ground not only by implementing robots in their processes but by creating robotic technology as well. For example, the startup Caper developed an intelligent shopping cart based on deep learning technology, which detects the purchases made by customers inside the cart so that they can pay directly from it.


While robotics and Artificial Intelligence gain ground and take over marketing, small shopkeepers strengthen and remain a quick, convenient, and diverse option that is unlikely to be surpassed by global commerce titans.





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