Retail Tech – The Solution to ‘Out of Stocks’

There’s no denying that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has seeped into our everyday lives without us realizing, even as we are doing something as mundane and essential as grocery shopping. Imagine this, you’re strolling down the aisle, and instead of a janitor cleaning up a spill, you see Marty, a googly-eyed robot warning you of a trip hazard ahead. 

That’s a glimpse of Retail Tech in action. 

As the competition heats up among technology providers in a race to help tackle retailers’ biggest woes with Retail Tech, retailers are now transforming the customer experience with the help of AI and Computer Vision (CV) from scanning fresh produce to engaging with customers

New Tech tackling age old retail issue

However, more importantly, the emergence of Retail Tech is solving age-old issues that often plague most brick and mortar retailers, one being — out-of-stocks. Retailers worldwide reportedly lose nearly a whopping 1 trillion dollars in sales as shoppers encounter this demise in one in three shopping trips. 

Retailers devote endless hours, ensuring their inventory is up-to-date and that their stores are well-displayed according to merchandising standards. On the most part, much of this work is still done manually at the store level, relying on storekeepers and managers to continually monitor and scan the store on foot to ensure accuracy and compliance. 

Sometimes, it can take hours for workers to notice an empty shelf, which, by that time it happens, losses in sales would have occurred. This dated operational method is not just costly in terms of monetary value but also of staff-hours which could be better spent on providing better customer service.

Thus, prompting retailers to turn to Computer Vision powered solutions for help. Computer Vision, the ‘eyes’ of machines with its ability to turn images and videos to actionable data is helping retailers in some of its most crucial tasks — inventory and shelf management. The technology in the form of smart cameras is increasingly being used for in-store inventory tracking, immediately reporting the sight of out-of-stocks in a bid to boost their revenues through improved inventory management and potentially eradicate the common issue of an empty store shelf. 

How this typically works is retailers would place cameras in stores at the edge of a shelf, which takes images at regular intervals. For example, the cameras would take a picture every hour which will then be sent to the cloud where they will analyze to ensure not just the status of the shelf but that products are available on the right shelf. 

With these cameras in place, retailers are then able to receive information about their shelves’ status in real time, allowing store clerks to take immediate action instead of having to walk to each shelf and inspecting their status manually based on the reports of the system. The use of shelf cameras has reportedly significantly reduced the interval when a product goes out of stock until it was replenished, resulting in higher sales volume.      

The future of Aisles belongs to Shelf Scanning Robotics  

Apart from cameras, retailers have also begun turning to robotics powered by Computer Vision to monitor the statuses of shelves. Big retail players such as Walmart are further expanding the use of Bossa Nova’s shelf scanning robots to their stores and recently announced the deployment of an additional fleet of robots to its 650 stores. While Tally, Schnuck’s latest addition of robotic store clerks will roam the aisles to check on stock items and prices, taking on the crucial task of inventory taking. 

Despite all the doomsday talk for brick and mortar, in store sales accounted for almost 90% of all retail sales in the United States at the end of last year. Physical stores are here to stay, as huge chain retailers turn to Computer Vision powered technologies to eradicate waste and inefficiency of labored intensive inventory management in-store. However, those who are looking to survive the physical retail space, in the long run, are the ones who leverage off Retail Tech in solving retail problems and the pain points of their customers. 

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