Giant Eagle will bring robots into select stores

Digital inventory auditing is one of the growth areas of automation as brick-and-mortars fight back.

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Giant Eagle has announced a pilot program to bring shelf-scanning robots into select stores. The pilot is being run in partnership  with inventory automation firm Simbe Robotics, maker of Tally, an autonomous shelf scanning and inventory analytics platform. 

The pilot will affect Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Akron stores.

Digital inventory auditing and management has become a major growth area in the automation sector as brick-and-mortars attempt to streamline operations and fight back against ecommerce. According to a recent survey conducted by Wakefield Research and commissioned by robotics company Bossa Nova, a Simbe competitor, inventory management issues account for more lost revenue than theft

Shelf-scanning robots roam stores autonomously and quickly scan merchandise on shelves using machine vision or RFID readers, a job traditionally performed by store clerks to keep track of inventory. The robots do this far more comprehensively and quickly, giving stores a near-real-time snapshot of inventory on the shelves. By analyzing the data to determine things like item popularity at a given time of day or in a given shelf location, retailers gain insights into customer behavior and product trends. 

As I've written, analytics like that, and not just convenience, have helped e-commerce startups torpedo many brick & mortar giants. Shelf-scanning robots are a direct response to help level the playing field.

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During the Giant Eagle pilot, Tally will send data reports to store teams every half-hour including information on the state and availability of merchandise. That helps the teams optimize product layout and pricing based on data collected at a specific location.

"When it comes to the food retail industry, shopper experience is everything," says Giant Eagle spokesperson Jannah Jablonowski. "If a product is unavailable at the time our customer wants to buy it, we've missed an opportunity and disappointed our customer."

Simbe also has a partnership with Decathlon, a major French sporting goods merchandiser that recently expanded into the U.S. Rival Bossa Nova, meanwhile, has robots roving aisles at several Walmart stores

In the pilot, Tally units will scan around 35,000 products multiple times per day, performing accurate inventory-counts, out of stock and low stock detection, identifying misplaced or improperly oriented items, and performing third-party supplier compliance and vendor management tasks.

"With Tally, Giant Eagle can leverage actionable data about what's happening on shelves," says Simbe CEO and cofounder, Brad Bogolea. "Tally's insights add immense value to Giant Eagle customers by improving their overall in-store experience, and to store teams by empowering them with frequent, accurate inventory information."