Retail robots

09. July 2017, MAXFIVE

A vision of automated retail. Thanks to the breakneck pace of technological change, robots are far from a distant dream.


customer service
humans and machines
purchasing tool
Retail robots


© Annelieke B

Taken to new heights by TV shows such as The Jetsons and the Terminator films, robots played a major role in 20th century popular culture. The promise of self-driving cars is becoming an everyday reality, and retail robots are already well and truly integrated into our day-to-day shopping experiences.


But what do these changes mean for the people they serve, and where exactly are the advantages for the retail sector?

From the realms of science fiction to reality

Since the advent of MM7, the development of humanoid industrial robots has progressed in leaps and bounds. This development is particularly plain to see when it comes to sales:


  • Toomas, the first mobile shopping robot featuring UHF-RFID technology, was developed in 2009.


  • In 2014 the first android was put to work in a home improvement store in California. Besides providing customer support in Spanish and English, it also collects the desired product from the shelves for shoppers.


  • Last autumn, Best Buy unveiled a robot called Chloe at one of its New York electrical goods stores. Chloe is able to pick out a customer’s request from rows of about 15,000 items, such as DVDs and personal electronics, in around 30 seconds.


  • Last year, America’s National Retail Federation show featured a distinctly lifelike robot girl created by RobotLAB, which gives customers fashion tips and suggestions on healthy eating via a flatscreen TV.


  • On Cyber Monday, a red letter day on the shopping calendar, around 15,000 semi-autonomous robots were deployed to help online retailers keep on top of orders.

Retail 4.0

Robots play an important role in industrial production. Under Industry 4.0, they will take on even greater responsibility and become increasingly independent. Thanks to intelligent controls and software, they will be in a position to communicate directly with products and execute individual production steps flexibly and autonomously. The idea of taking robots into the retail arena is gaining ground, primarily when it comes to stock control and stocktaking. It also helps retailers address out-of-stock articles and in-store inconsistencies.


Intelligent robots can also be found working in medicine, the care sector and the hospitality industry, providing assistance in various surgical, care and service roles. Many of these robotic solutions combine mobility, connectivity, sensing and analytics. They have the potential to increase the order-handling capacity of retail and service businesses, although the ROI is uncertain to begin with.

A glimpse of the future

The prospect of continuous interdependence between humans and machines in the retail and service sectors is a divisive topic. That said, the idea of interacting with various automated devices when shopping is truly compelling for many consumers, as retail robots deliver a wide range of advantages for customers and retailers alike.


On the one hand, retail robots take on a lot of the retailer’s work, meaning shorter working weeks for the same pay, and they also complete tasks that retailers find particularly laborious and monotonous, leaving them free to focus on their core activities. On the other hand, retail robots help customers to find the product of their choice in a matter of seconds and deliver an overview of all the products available in just a few minutes. Visionary development of intelligent automatons is certainly something that would have captured Leonardo Da Vinci’s imagination.

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