Inventory mishaps behind staggering revenue loss in physical retail

Inventory management robots could help brick-and-mortar regain some of the footing lost to ecommerce.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

There's a big inventory problem in retail. Can robots help?

Also: The SMB Guide to Industrial Automation

The root of the issue is inventory mismanagement. Physical retailers are painfully aware of revenue they lose due to theft, and all major retailers have loss management protocols to minimize the bleeding. But general inventory mismanagement could be a far more pressing issue. According to a new survey, inventory management issues account for far more lost revenue than theft.

The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research and commissioned by robotics company Bossa Nova, includes perspectives from dozens of corporate retail professionals with a title of Director or greater at companies with $500m+ in annual revenue. The results suggest an ongoing catastrophe in how inventory is tracked and forecast in the $1.3 trillion retail sector. 

Over 70 percent of those surveyed, for example, stated that inaccurate inventory forecasting is a major issue, resulting in costly supply-demand mismatches. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed reported some difficulty tracking inventory through the supply chain.


It's not for lack of trying. Over 90 percent of retailers surveyed reported their stores spend more time identifying inventory issues than they do implementing solutions. On ground level, retail employees typically spend more time filling out-of-stock holes on shelves than interacting with customers. 

Bossa Nova, the company that commissioned the survey, believes shelf-scanning robots are a crucial part of the answer. Bossa Nova's robots roam stores autonomously and scan merchandise on shelves to help retailers keep track of inventory more efficiently than employees with scanning guns. 

"Inventory accuracy is a never-ending challenge for retailers," says Martin Hitch, Bossa Nova co-founder and chief business officer. "Our data is ground truth for the store and enables retailers to transform store operations, influencing everything from the flow of goods, to the product replenishment process and ultimately, to the customer shopping experience."

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Other companies automating shelf scanning include Simbe, which makes a shelf-scanner called Tally.

On the surface, automating shelf scanning seems almost quaint. But the data these roving robots can collect is invaluable, giving retailers insights about how items are performing in near-real time. That data can help brick-and-mortar stores make smarter forecasting decisions, reducing out-of-stock occurrences and helping stores prune poor-performing items.

Bossa Nova, the market leader in the space, has raised more than $100M. Recently the company signed a major partnership with Walmart to bring store scanning robots to the brick-and-mortar giant.

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