The world in today’s day in age revolves around the use and accessibility of technology. The dependability of smart phones, watches, cars, and tablets have enhanced society’s way of going about life’s daily activities. We can now add smart shelves to that list.

This digital age has impacted many markets and industries, generating more ways to sell and grow businesses.

For retailers to grow and evolve, a significant amount of research and data must be collected. Data on past customer purchases, behavior, and sales. RFID tags and smart shelves provide accurate and correct information to make impactful decisions for the future.

In an article written by Sini Syrjala on September 13th, 2012 for RFID Arena, she defined smart shelves and how they operate. “It’s a shelf that has been equipped with an RFID reader,” Syrijala said. “The RFID reader can be built-in the shelf itself or installed behind/under/above normal shelves.”

A key component of Smart Shelves is the management and ability to keep a stable inventory. The shelf knows when an item is running out and needs to be restocked. An alert is then sent through the Sales-Force Automation System (SFA) such as Dynamics 365. Automated orders can then be made for the correct number of products from warehouses or manufacturers.

Using modern technologies

This is a very impactful advantage because of the massive amount of disappoint that customers feel when shopping for a certain item.

Another major component of Smart Shelves is the ability to realize and track any misplaced items. Out of stock items are easily confused with being misplaced. This can have major effects on sales and for businesses loss prevention numbers.

Syrjala also said, “After adopting RFID retailers have reported that shrinkage has decreased with an average of 70%. With smart shelves, retailers will know where the remaining 30% has disappeared.”

This aspect of smart shelves can solve the problem of shrinkage within stores at an efficient rate.

Expired dates on products is another problem that stores run into. Especially supermarkets carrying foods/editable goods. These shelves can send alerts to employees at the store when products are on the verge of expiring.

Customers who shop for items such as clothing have tendencies to be eager to know more specific information on the item. Specific information like the type of fabric and country of origin. Smart shelves can provide this information to the customer, making them fully informative of what they are going to buy. Ultimately, reducing the chances of returns on previously purchased products.

Stores and retailers are still far from fully adapting to these shelves for their customers mainly due to the problem of connecting with Big Data.

Another way industries are adapting to the digital way of doing business is with robotics.

On March 2nd, 2018, Dorothy Ballard of the Miami News Record reported that a Walmart in Miami deployed a scanning robot for managing inventory.

Ballard reported that the robotics were produced by California-based Bossanova Robotics, and deployed in 2017 in California, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania. “Standing at about two-feet tall with an attached extending tower that can reach over 6-feet in height, the scanning robot stays idle and charging until it deploys during a designated schedule to check aisles,” Ballard said.

Like smart shelves, robotics can scan data showing restock needs, mislabels, and product misplacements. This is done by using cameras and LiDAR’s (light imaging, detection, and ranging) to scan the items.

The use of AI (artificial intelligence) in the robots is what’s used for the information to be sent to the Walmart associates.

When managing inventory of a space so large such as Walmart’s, it can get not only costly but also very time consuming. These robotic advancements offer stores of all industries a more cost and time efficient way of managing inventory.

The CBO at Bossa Nova, Martin Hitch said, “The robot will actually result in better customer service and more human interaction. The robot will do some of the tedious and time-consuming tasks, and be able to do that much more quickly, so what it does is frees up our associates to then spend more time with customers, answering questions and helping them on the floor.”

Daily, robotics in Walmart are rolling up and down aisles three times to check well over 150,000 products. This process done by a robot results in faster results than by a human.

As the robots can scan just about any product to provide extremely detailed and useful information, they can’t physically make any actions. The robots will keep the information stored in their system. Information such as when product needs to be restocked or items are tagged incorrectly. Then, human employees will read that stored information and physically make such changes.

However, in 2015 Best Buy deployed a robot in New York who can physically grab products for customers and called it “Chloe”.

Perry Simpson of DMN said, “Chloe is a 350-square foot menagerie of belts, bins, cases, and shelves. The robot itself is a simple industrial robotic arm, complete with a screen that greets shoppers with a hello message, and flashes an emotion smile upon completing its task. But Chloe’s biggest draw is the convenience she brings to the in-store experience.”

For businesses, robotics in their stores seem like the perfect scenario.

Yet, for the employees working on the floor, these robots are taking jobs away. A problem that’s consumed almost every political debate for years, unemployment.  This raising two questions, do companies keep jobs open for human employees and offer more efficient training? Or do they replace those positions with faster robotics and less room for error?

Beyond this debate, for other companies outside of Best Buy and Walmart, it’s sort of a waiting game to see how this technological advancement performs in the stores. An advancement that can be the face of a generational change in retailers.

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