Shoppers in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana can expect to see more robots in grocery stores soon. Schnuck Markets Inc. said today that it is expanding deployment of Simbe Robotics Inc.’s Tally to 46 stores, bringing the autonomous inventory robot to a total of 62 locations.
St. Louis, Mo.-based Schnuck Markets operates 112 stores and employs more than 14,000 “teammates.”
“The amount of critical data and valuable insights that Tally continues to bring us from a select number of stores is immeasurable,” said Dave Steck, vice president of IT infrastructure and development at Schnucks. “By expanding our partnership with Simbe and introducing Tally to more than half our stores, we will improve our in-stock position for our customers and free up our teams from tedious inventory-related tasks, allowing more focus on service.”
Simbe Robotics was founded in 2014 and designed Tally to operate during normal store hours along shoppers and employees. The robot uses computer vision, cloud-based software, and machine learning to improve the data flow to retailers without requiring infrastructure changes, said the San Francisco-based startup. Simbe said it has customers across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, including Giant Eagle, Decathlon Group, and Groupe Casino.
“We serve essential businesses, and grocery stores have seen all-time high sales,” said Brad Bogolea, founder and CEO of Simbe Robotics. “The pandemic has only increased interest in data and resilience in the supply chain.”
Simbe builds on experience
“The Bay Area had strict shelter-in-place restrictions, but our hardware team has been back since June, and we never skipped a beat in shipping or logistics,” Bogolea told Collaborative Robot Trends. “We do our design, development, and prototyping in-house. We’ve seen how robots have been part of the retail response in Japan and then in the Pacific Northwest and expanding.”
“All autonomy companies had a similar experiences procuring sensors, battery technology,” he said. “It took aa lot of thoughtful planning to build supply chains to meet these needs, and geopolitics and the pandemic make these things more difficult than two to three years ago.”
“Challenges facing physical store teams include keeping up with restocking, finding misplaced items, cleaning up spills, and picking for online groceries,” he added. “They now have even less time to perform shelf audits. Many store teams can check inventory only once or twice a week, but Tally can do it two to three times per day.”
“The surge in online grocery ordering makes having up-to-date data critical to the customer experience. Every retailer is rethinking its strategic roadmap,” said Bogolea. “Even though there’s exciting work being done in micro-fulfillment and mobile manipulation, most orders are still picked by people in physical grocery stores.”
Even when items were missing early in the pandemic, stores did not always register out-of-stock items, he noted. “Data has been extremely valuable at peak. When stores were decimated, it was like putting together a puzzle,” Bogolea said. “Inventory robots are also helpful to newer and temporary employees, and better data allows our clients to order more proactively.”
Schnuck Markets already benefiting from Tally
Schnucks first piloted Tally in July of 2017 and expanded to additional stores in 2018, with robots traversing store aisles two to three times per day and autonomously capturing inventory for approximately 35,000 products per store with each traversal.
“Schnuck Markets was an early partner and is a very progressive and pragmatic grocer. It’s unique in being privately owned and family-held,” said Bogolea. “This was not about the grocer testing technology but about business transformation and operationalizing at scale.”
Simbe‘s robots have improved inventory and productivity in what the grocer’s employees refer to as “the Tally Effect.” According to Steck, Tally provides Schnuck Markets the following benefits:
- 14x more out-of-stock detection than manual auditing and at least 20% reduction in out-of-stock items in stores using Tally
- Increased accuracy of real-time inventory that feeds into Schnucks’ automated replenishment system, allowing for more efficient inventory management
- Streamlined ordering and replenishment, ensuring store shelves are restocked quicker to meet customer needs
- Access to real-time product location data through the Schnucks Rewards app, enabling more efficient shopping trips for customers and stocking for teammates
Robots, data-driven insights seen as keys to customer satisfaction
With the latest expansion, Tally will scan an average of more than 4.2 million products per day, giving Schnuck Markets accurate, frequent and comprehensive insights into product flow and operations.
“Simbe is proud to expand our partnership, now and into the future, and continue to work together across a variety of store sizes and layouts to create a better retail experience through data-driven solutions like Tally,” stated Bogolea. “As retailers are recognizing the need for innovation in a unique market landscape, Simbe equips them with the insights they need to remain competitive and keep customers happy.”
“With everyone working or going to school from home, grocery demand has skyrocketed,” he noted. “Some behaviors will stick, like more online ordering. Grocery stores have recognized that everyone needs quality produce, heath and beauty, and pharmacy products.”
“In retail, the No. 1 area of interest is shelf auditing and inventory in grocery, and No. 2 is floor cleaning and sanitation,” Bogolea said. “While many physical stores might become micro-fulfillment centers, retailers already have existing capital investments in those stores, and micro-fulfillment is a substantial investment. They’ll continue leveraging human labor for the customer experience.”