"Out of stock" signs are an unfortunate, frustrating reality for grocery store customers. They rightly expect their favorite ice cream flavors, sliced breads and deli meats to be ready and waiting for them to buy right when they need it. Given the frequency with which Americans patronize supermarket aisles - close to two times per week, according to the Food Marketing Institute - maintaining stocked shelves isn't always feasible.
However, thanks to the rapid deployment and implementation of automation, insufficient inventory may soon be a thing of the past.
Robotics also offer quality control information to help reduce spoilage."
An increasing number of supermarket chains and big box retailers are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to improve retail procurement and logistics. Perhaps the best example - at least thus far - is Walmart. Through its newly opened and aptly titled Intelligent Retail Lab located in Levittown, New York, the discount chain is rolling out AI-powered cameras and sensor technology that provide up-to-the-second updates as to when popular food and beverage items require restocking. These machines also offer quality control information to help avoid spoilage.
In a statement, IRL Chief Executive Officer Mike Hanrahan of Walmart said the rapid pace with which technology is advancing is great news - both for the company and customers.
"Technology enables us to understand so much more - in real time - about our business," Hanrahan explained. "When you combine all the information we're gathering in IRL with Walmart's 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates."
Other vendors leveraging tracking technology
Walmart is certainly not the only one major retailer that's utilizing state-of-the-art technologies to build a better brand and improve customer satisfaction. Kroger, America's biggest supermarket chain in terms of revenue, also uses sensors for tracking and freshness assurance purposes.
Adapt or die
Matt Walaszek, CBRE associate director of industrial and logistics research, told Supply Chain Dive that the retail industry is one of adaptation, as operators must constantly think two steps ahead to remain competitive and relevant.
"There are some folks who believe the grocery store is not going to go away, but we may see more of a hybrid grocery store model with a smaller footprint on the front-end and larger distribution and fulfillment functions in the back end," Walaszek predicted.
Stop & Shop, Giant/Martin's, and Schnuck Market are a few other chains that have trialed or already implemented robotics to improve customer satisfaction and enhance operational excellence, PYMNTS.com reported separately. They seem to be doing a pretty good job in the opinion of food aisle frequenters. Nearly 58% of respondents in the aforementioned FMI survey said brick-and-mortar grocery locations do a better job at customer service than online suppliers. Nearly 70% said the same for keeping perishable fresher for longer.