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As spotted by one of our field team last week, it looks like Morrisons has a new worker in town in the form of a robot.  From what we understand, this is part of a trial by a US company, Bossa Nova, who have recently opened a European headquarters in the UK.  Their trial is all about gap scanning, a task that can often be heavy from a resource perspective.

Robots appearing in store are part of a growing trend in AI assistance devices (think Amazon Alexa, autonomous vacuum cleaners, self-driving cars).  If this trend continues, what could the impact be on the grocery industry and also on outsourced sales teams?

Friend or foe?

The arrival of a gap scanning robot could be seen by some as a threat to human employment.  In reality the robot is specialised to a fairly low level and also for mundane tasks – scanning shelf gaps.

In a recent article (http://bit.ly/2XfTgRl) announcing their move to the UK, Bossa Nova are at pains to make clear that their robot is there not to replace store staff, but to aid them in their work by freeing up their time from low level tasks to engage with customers.

Red McKay, MD of European Operations, states in the article:

“Robots free staff from a monotonous, hated job and gives them time to help shoppers, pack bags or pick orders for people ordering online”.

Our interpretation is that the company acknowledges that great customer service requires that human connection and, therefore, should not be left to a robot.  Could the robot do more in the future?  Well, I guess we have to wait and see.

What about outsourced sales teams?

Our experience shows fixing systemic issues, such as book stock errors etc., is likely to deliver one of the greatest returns for an in-store action or intervention.  We think this latest innovation could be a helpful addition as the robot is linked to the stockroom, warehouse and head office delivering data without any risk of human error.

This could undoubtedly make callage much more time efficient which ultimately could help to increase the reach of any outsourced budget.  In a similar vein to freeing up store staff to focus on great customer service, this also frees up time for a brand representative to focus on things that, so far, a robot would struggle with.  The warm body approach can still add large value to a store on behalf of brands, spotting opportunities and working with retailers to jointly drive performance over the longer term.

So it’s a slightly cautious welcome to Robert the Robot, we look forward to your help with some of the more monotonous parts of retail life so that we can continue to deliver the human touch.