August 2021

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Robots in Retail

The Pandemic showed everyone the need for accurate inventory counts in retail stores.

mannyManny Mandrusiak CD.
Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant
Vancouver Island Works Project

Contributing Editor

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I’ll be the first to admit that I have a complete fixation on sparkling water, and my wife and I go through at least 6 liters a day.  That being said, I’m a huge believer in comparing prices between retailers to save money where I can. 

I was in one of my local Wal-Mart stores last week shopping for water and I noticed that there were technicians installing what looked like either cameras or sensors in the water aisle.

I decided to be “that person” who has to ask what is being installed so that I can attempt to figure out how it works.

I was chatting with an Associate and he mentioned that the things being installed were indeed cameras that have the job of keeping track of inventory on the shelves.  (Little known Manny fact. I worked at a Wal-Mart for a year and a half as a second job when I was in my early freelance days).

My mind raced back to when I used to have to do “picks” from store shelves.  Essentially part of the job was to go out on the floor and count how much actual product was on the shelves so that I could input the data into an aging system called Gemini.  My inputted numbers would then produce what we called a “pick list” for the night crew so that they could restock the shelves at night, and so that the department manager could send supply requests to the main warehouse for resupply.

These devices made complete sense to me as during the recent pandemic we all had to deal with empty shelves due to supply shortages.  I could easily see how these cameras could help Wal-Mart stay ahead of product shortages through a faster rate of streaming data.  More data means a better opportunity to see trends and predict the demand for products by consumers.  This would ultimately give department manager’s the ability to more accurately predict what they need, and hopefully receive messages in real-time about upcoming product shortages. 

As I was “geeking” out about the camera wondering how the systems were constructed the Associate that I was speaking to mentioned, “We’re almost at the point where we can have Tally come and work in the store”.  Tally?

Who was this Tally that he speaks of?

I had no idea.

It turns out that Tally is a robot that has been developed by Simbe Robotics to integrate into retail environments and eliminate the mundane task of inventory control. Having done the job of counting products on the shelf, this robot made complete sense to me.

It also occurred to me that the recent pandemic may have demonstrated the robot’s value as there were several times that I saw examples of “panic buying” in retail stores.

I can appreciate the value of having accurate consistent data during the recent pandemic as retailers were no doubt trying to overcome the product shortages.  We all know that North Americans are not used to the product shortages that were seen during the pandemic.

That also got me thinking that as global climates are changing inventory control robots would be a huge benefit in combating potential food shortages by giving food retailers the data needed to source products from different areas to maintain their full shelves.

Technology continues to pop up everywhere in our lives, and I’m always excited to see what new ideas I will see in action next.


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