The Future of Robots and Automated Checkout in the Age of Social Distancing


With omnichannel operations upended by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers are adapting to serve customer demand through online shopping, curbside pickup and delivery orders. Managing the logistics of what items are in stores or warehouses and which need to be shipped continues to be challenging.

On top of that, businesses are adapting to health regulations designed to keep both employees and customers safe.

Companies that previously invested and implemented IoT technologies like RAIN RFID have adapted quicker than others during the pandemic. Technologies like smart robots and automated checkout enabled by RAIN RFID have risen to the forefront, allowing retail stores to maintain real-time visibility of their inventory to inform omnichannel order fulfillment and deliver the new level of in-store customer service and safety that is expected.

For example, outdoor equipment retailer Decathlon invested in the smart robot Tally, which is equipped with a RAIN RFID reader, to automate counting inventory in their huge 47,000-square-foot flagship store with over 10,000 products. As the robot moves through the store, it scans hundreds of tagged items per second, continually monitoring inventory counts, identifying misplaced and out-of-stock items, and returning accurate inventory data to store associates.

Additionally, the robot can scan inventory overnight without any supervision, saving even more time for employees to focus on customer needs.

Accurate, timely inventory data across all retail locations and distribution centers gives retail managers valuable insights to see trends over time and make more informed inventory decisions — necessary when there is a sudden change in inventory demand like many companies experienced at the start of the pandemic. With this kind of real-time data, retailers like Decathlon are able to adjust stock-flow and make predictions about what items are overstocked or which are in high demand.

Not only are retailers adapting to serve online and pickup orders, they’re also rethinking everything about their physical stores due to the pandemic. Shopper expectations established today will most likely carry over as the world recovers from the disruption of the pandemic.

For example, with today’s focus on limiting people congregating in lines during the checkout experience, tomorrow’s shopper will likely expect the same when things return to normal. The post-pandemic shopping experience will ultimately be changed, and smart retailers are both adapting for today and planning for the future.

Speeding up the checkout experience through automation is another area that retailers can address. The best automated checkout solutions don’t turn the customer into the cashier, forcing them to fumble with scanning barcodes. Automated checkout enabled by RAIN RFID provides a simple, intuitive experience where all tagged items are scanned immediately without fuss — for a faster, frustration-free customer experience. New capabilities in RAIN RFID further simplify and streamline this experience by also enabling loss prevention and seamless returns.

From smart robot solutions to seamless self-checkout options, traditional retail is changing forever from the impact of this pandemic. Expect to see more seamless self-checkout options, unique in-store experiences, and more variety and choice for consumers all powered by new technologies.

Retailers around the world are evolving quickly due to the pandemic. Having flexible omnichannel operations that leverage automation and IoT technologies will be a priority for retailers maintaining a competitive edge in the coming years.

Gaylene Meyer is VP of global marketing at Impinj.

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