Schnucks Markets Rolls Out Simbe’s Robots to more than half of their stores.

Grocers did an incredible job responding to COVID. They shifted supply chains to overcome toilet paper shortages, redesigned traffic flow to accommodate social distancing, utilized frequent testing to protect their store-workers, and introduced more delivery options for their customers.

Most grocery store sales are way up over the last seven months of the pandemic. The innovative stores, with their eyes on the future, are investing this surplus into automation to improve their store experiences for their customers.

The single biggest problem in retail is “out-of-stocks”. You can’t sell what’s not on your shelves. In grocery, it’s a particularly hard problem to solve, because many different vendors stock your shelves. Humans are really bad at counting lots of small items. We also get bored of doing menial, highly-repetitive tasks. And with rising labor costs, retailers would prefer their employees to interact with their customers, not count inventory. Figuring out what is on your shelves, what is missing, and if items are priced and displayed correctly is a perfect job for a robot. Fortunately, Simbe Robotics makes Tally.

One of the most forward-thinking grocery chains is Schnuck Markets. They piloted Tally in 2017, expanded to a number of their stores in 2018, and now are rolling Tally out to all of their highest-traffic stores and the stores that offer online ordering. They found that Tally is 14x more accurate than when humans do the job at detecting out-of-stocks. Since Tally drives through the store at least three times per day, reporting the location of every item in the store, Schnucks uses the location data to tell customers exactly where to find any item in the store.

COVID massively accelerated the shift to online grocery delivery. But for most of us, that experience is less-than-optimal. We order from the website, only to find out when our groceries arrive that the store was out of bananas, only had 2% fat yogurt, and the wrong brand of peanut butter (okay, I love smoothies.) Tally allows grocers to only show on their website the items that are actually available to buy, and can generate optimal store maps for delivery pickers to follow when grabbing the items.

Building a robot this resilient and accurate is not easy. These are fully autonomous, self-charging robots which deftly navigate around people, shopping carts, and even spills. The sophisticated computer vision systems see from the tops to the bottoms of the racks and even deep into them. They detect items and prices and, in real-time, update the inventory and price management systems. Stock-keepers are notified immediately to restock missing items and order management systems can place new orders as stock starts to get low.

Believe it or not, out-of-stocks, mis-priced, and mis-placed items account for almost $1 trillion in lost sales. Simbe Robotics has built the perfect robot that provides the missing data to solve this problem, and now, retailers fully get it and are deploying these automation solutions broadly.

Now Your Grocer Knows Everything NOT on The Shelves was originally published in on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.