It's not just the digital world of retail that is experiencing a revolution - store operators across the world are starting to think radically about ways to improve the efficiency of their operating model.
Faced with huge pressures on operating economics and an ongoing threat of obsolescence retailers are looking to use cutting edge technology to improve store efficiency.
Walmart's roll out of robots to 50 trial stores is really interesting - and hints to a future where some of the more menial tasks in store may well be automated in the very short term. For retailers struggling with the costs of operating stores (largely labour + rent / rates) an ability to make a material reduction in store labour could be transformational.
Clearly self scan and self checkout are making good inroads into stores but Walmart's robot program hints at the first time for the automation of stock management in store, which remains a huge cost for many.
Walmart's new robot fleet is having an impact on stores. The retailer has expanded its initial test of its shelf-scanning robots to 50 stores across four states, including Arkansas and California. They're shaped like six-foot-tall roving towers on wheels and are equipped with cameras that can spot shelving errors. Walmart is working with the fully autonomous robots' manufacturer, Bossa Nova Robotics, for the program. The robots scan aisles for out-of-stock items, things that were put in the wrong place by customers, incorrect prices, and wrong or missing labels. They continuously go up and down the aisles of the store, alerting human employees to the errors it sees. The robots, which are often more efficient than employees performing similar tasks, are designed to free up workers' time so that they can use it to help customers.