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Adding JIT to Grocery Store Aisles

July 28, 2020
Robotic deployments represent a crucial step towards smarter retail environments.

Covid-19 placed a huge spotlight on the broken and often far too manual supply chain serving today’s grocery stores. While some of the shortages were understandably difficult to predict (such as toilet paper). However, other items surely could have been much easier to avoid -- if there was more transparency at the store level.

Having the ability to automate storewide shelf scans for out-of-stocks and price compliance will eliminate arduous manual tasks, especially given each store’s large floor space would make a significant difference. Woodman’s Markets is working to address this issue in its engagement with Badger Technologies, a product division of Jabil, to deploy multipurpose robots throughout Wisconsin and Illinois with the goal to expand to all 18 Woodman’s locations by the end of 2020.

For most retailers, including Woodman’s, the reality is that there just is not sufficient time to monitor in-store inventory effectively. Given that Woodman’s stores are quite expansive with upwards of 100,000 items, it would take weeks to manage this process manually. Not only does automation dramatically speed the process, it enables the team to connect shelf-scanning results to department, category, vendor, sell-through and pricing data to identify the most important inventory on which to take immediate action.

For instance, they can perform an impact analysis of out-of-stocks to identify “High Flyers,” which represent fast-moving inventory to ensure they are re-stocked prior to peak shopping hours. Moreover, they can gather timely insights into what’s trending, so they can prioritize replenishment lists as well as manage commodities and vendors with frequent stock issues.

The robots, equipped with Badger Retail InSight, are part of a complete retail automation solution that is enabling Woodman’s to elevate store execution, lower operational costs and increase store profits. Additionally, Woodman’s can take advantage of critical trending data to better forecast and manage commodities and vendors with frequent stock issues. 

Badger Retail InSight also keeps track of item locations, enabling Woodman’s to integrate daily updates into its mobile shopping app to help customers, online order pickers and store associates quickly find all products. This automated process also is proving essential to collaborations with pricing departments, improving the prioritization of replenishment lists and assessing planogram compliance. These solutions provide a more robust ROI for retailers amid the accelerated pace of change across the retail landscape in 2020.

“Most Woodman’s stores are over 240,000 square feet, nearly six times larger than the grocery industry average,” said Tim Rowland, CEO of Badger Technologies. “Not only can our robots perform shelf scans in hours instead of days, but they collect and connect critical data with the Woodman’s mobile shopping app to take customer experiences to the next level.” 

Deploy is already underway. Innovative imaging tools and neural networks enable the Badger Technologies autonomous robots to detect out-of-stock items with more than 95 percent accuracy. Incorrect and mispriced products are identified with over 90 percent accuracy. Badger Technologies autonomous robots also discern current product locations within a four-foot section of aisles that typically extend more than 100 feet. 

Robotics Integral to Woodman’s Digital Retail Strategy

While employee-owned Woodman’s celebrated its centennial in 2019, the grocer is an early adopter of digital technology to improve operations and shopping experiences. “Woodman’s is committed to having the widest variety of groceries at the best prices, unlike other superstores that sell everything from bikes to bananas,” said Clint Woodman, president of Woodman’s Markets. “Badger’s robots are helping us fulfill this mission with real-time inventory visibility that yields analytics and actionable data insights to inform our business decisions.”

To date, more than 500 Badger Technologies shelf scanning, hazard detecting and security monitoring robots have traveled approximately 500,000 miles on behalf of grocers worldwide. In addition to automating monotonous and mundane tasks, these multipurpose robots help retailers keep shelves stocked with products that are priced and placed correctly while ensuring store aisles and floors are clean and safe. Data-savvy retailers, like Woodman’s, are taking advantage of a multitude of operational insights gathered by Badger Technologies autonomous robots to increase the productivity of omnichannel solutions, including click-and-collect and curbside delivery services. 

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