An article posted on Computer World alerted me to a very interesting product currently used by Tesco. Along with implementing RFID tags into their inventory efforts, they’ve taken regular inventory out of their employees hands…and given the responsibility to robots.
The robots are equipped with RFID antennas so they can scan tags at many angles as they buzz down the retail aisle. The robots are also equipped with screens, which transmit back to store associates. Robots are, therefore, also used as conduits between customers and employees. Apparently, this is not the primary function for the robots. Yet it seems very likely that customers would be curious to interact.
The author of the CW article has a clear misgiving towards having robots going down the aisles as they run inventory numbers. It’s not the most surprising reaction. It is common for folks to raise alarms to new technological advances. Robots and automated processes are often something that will cause great interest, and fear among some. Even ATMs were initially met with concern and mild hostility. Now they’re the preferred choice of banking around the world. Could RFID scanning robots be the next great advancement in retail?
The apprehension toward in store robots is not surprising, but is definitely misplaced since the robots are just doing inventory. But, there is something to be said about how RFID can and should be applied to the retail space. High end retail stores rely on offering shoppers an elegant experience when browsing the retail floor. A major reason people like to shop at high end stores is the ambiance. That’s why there would always be someone playing piano at Nordstrom. There’s something about a huge RFID robot doing inventory that just doesn’t seem to fit a classy boutique or high end store. If RFID robotics stand to make it into high end stores, they’ll have to fit into the store’s décor.
But, just like ATMs simplified banking, if robotic inventory makes the shopping experience more positive for shoppers, you can bet they will be in every retail store – even the high end boutiques and shops.