STORES Magazine - April 2018 - 33
Talking about the future of retail robots
teven Keith Platt is wired to know robots. Platt, who is director and research fellow at the Platt Retail
Institute, has been enamored with all things robotic - if not all things that move - since, at age five,
his grandfather presented him with a battery-powered car that was big enough for Platt to sit in and drive
around the room.
Platt also serves as research director at the Retail
Analytics Council, an initiative between Northwestern
University and Platt Retail Institute which focuses
on the use of technology to impact the customer
On April 26, the Retail Analytics Council and Platt
Retail Institute will host the first Retail Robotics
and AI Conference at Northwestern University's San
Francisco campus. Platt, who has lectured on retail
and technology around the globe, discussed the fastchanging future of retail and robotics with STORES
contributing writer Bruce Horovitz.
ordering stuff that isn't selling. You are ordering stuff
that is selling. And you're able to find your merchandise
down to a single item in a single store.
Are robots going to take over retail?
"Take over" is an amorphous term. It's not one
I would use. I don't see a totally robotized store
for a while. In retail, I think of it more like car
manufacturing, where people and automation are
working side by side, complementing each other.
With robots, there's a labor cost savings, productivity
enhancement and accuracy enhancement. Robots
don't make mistakes like humans.
What exactly is a robot?
A robot has certain cognitive capabilities. It has
to have the ability to move around without crashing
into things - so there's navigation. It also performs
certain physical functions using robotics.
Who used robots first?
General Motors introduced them in 1961
in production lines focused on repetitive
Who used robots first in retail?
The first in retail were in Amazon warehouses.
Amazon has more than 100,000 in its warehouses.
What is the current state of robotics in retail?
The current iteration is twofold. There are service
robots that help direct customers to product and
provide them with relevant information, and there
are shelf audit robots.
What's the next major growth area for robotics?
Radio frequency identification. The technology has
been around forever, but retailers are now starting
to adopt it in a major way. Macy's recently did a
15-month test. Some 80 percent of its inventory was
RFID-tagged. The benefits are phenomenal. With
RFID, you can go from a once-a-year physical count of
inventory to monthly, daily or even hourly. The benefits
of inventory accuracy are huge. That way you're not
Will retailers be able to replace all
their cashiers with robotics?
Frictionless checkout won't be about robot cashiers.
I could see robots roaming stores and helping to load
and pack groceries and assist with checkout, but
that's a while out. But a different form of frictionless
checkout is coming quickly, where the customer
simply waves a wand to scan
Will the Amazon Go store
set a retail trend?
The way they have deployed
the technology is not scalable.
There are better ways to achieve
the same thing. Amazon can't
scale that technology. It's very
expensive the way they're doing
it. The technology requires a
massive number of cameras
and a ton of object recognition.
There is a massive amount
of data, so you need a lot of
What do you prefer?
RFID is very inexpensive and
there's no need for cameras. We
also like facial pay. A customer
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STORES April 2018 33