Would ‘driverless’ carts enhance shopping in stores?
Walmart is testing a robotic shopping cart capable of helping customers shop, check out and even motor out to the parking lot without being pushed by a human.
At the Bloomberg Technology conference last week, Wendy Roberts, CEO of Five Elements Robotics, acknowledged that her company is working on a project with the “world’s largest retailer” that was later confirmed to be Walmart.
Last December, Five Elements Robotics introduced Budgee, “the friendly robot that follows you and carries your things.” Budgee can follow its owner via a transceiver that the owner carries or wears. The cart weighs 22 pounds, can carry up to 50 pounds, and folds up for easy transportation and storage.
The Walmart cart prototype presumably would scan a customer’s shopping list and then take them on the best route to pick up merchandise around the store, although exact details aren’t being revealed.
Wrote Will Knight, senior editor, AI, for MIT Technology Review, “While robot shopping carts might be a little unnecessary, it makes a lot of sense for Walmart to try to understand how automation may disrupt its business just as much as e-commerce already has.”
At retail, advanced robotics have largely been tapped to help warehouse workers perform repetitive tasks such as goods delivery, pick and pack, and surveying. In early June, Walmart confirmed plans to test the use of flying drones to handle inventory at its warehouses with an eye to potentially using them for inventory checks in-store.
The tech-cart experiment comes amidst the hype around driverless cars, even as consumers remain skeptical. According to a recent survey by the American Automobile Association, 75 percent of drivers are afraid to get into a fully automated vehicle due to safety concerns. Some, particularly men, feel such cars would “take the fun out of driving.” Like other surveys, younger generations were found to be more open to trying them than older ones.
- Wal-Mart Experimenting with Roboting Shopping Carts for Stores – Bloomberg
- Report: Wal-Mart checking out robotic shopping cart – Retail Dive
- Forget driverless cars, Walmart is testing smart shopping carts that can navigate the aisles and find items on your list – Daily Mail
- Walmart Considers Robotic Shopping Carts for Stores – Sourcing Journal
- Walmart’s Robotic Shopping Carts Are the Latest Sign That Automation Is Eating Commerce – Technology Review
- Budgee The Robot That Is Rocking The World, Is Now Appearing In Homes Near You – Five Elements Robotics
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would driverless shopping carts enhance the shopping experience in a store like Walmart? Do you expect consumers to have reservations similar to those expressed about driverless cars?
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11 Comments on "Would ‘driverless’ carts enhance shopping in stores?"
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SVP, Strategy & Insight, Profitero
The inventions of the shopping basket and cart have already proven to increase basket size by making it easier for shoppers to collect more items on a single store trip.
An assistive robot like this would need to be unobtrusive and responsive, but with those characteristics it could definitely improve the experience of big box shopping. It won’t be an overnight success, but it’s not entirely far-fetched.
Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations
OK — so it may be cool and may even create a trial bump if rolled out. Hard to believe it would ever pay out, which is what Walmart should be worried about. Honestly, we could all use the exercise (however minimal) that pushing a shopping cart entails.
President, The Ian Percy Corporation
Are you kidding me? Why don’t we invent driverless robotic couches so shoppers can lie back and not have to move at all! Stephen has it right, if we can’t even push a cart we’ve reached a point of degeneration I’ve never imagined. I can’t wait for the next series of pictures of Walmart shoppers.
VP Planning, TPN Retail
If a driverless car would take the fun out of driving, a driverless cart takes the fun out of shopping. Imagine if the driverless cart is programmed to try to sell the shopper on a new category, walk past a certain display or talk to the shopper about the benefits of a new product. I don’t want a test of wills versus a shopping cart. Now I can have an argument with the cart, not just my kids.
Principal, Retail Technology Group
Robotic shopping carts may work in environments in which the walking distances are long and parking lots are large. However, the cost of putting these devices in stores can’t be cheap and it would take a long time for them to pay for themselves in incremental sales or even in customer loyalty.
President, founder and CEO Interactive Edge
While having a driverless shopping cart might be a neat novelty item, it’s hard to see how it would bring value to a retail business. Although I would be interested to see how this plays out in warehouse setting where it could potentially save a lot of time and money. A major selling point for retail stores is the human interaction and a driverless shopping cart seems to further remove the customer from that interaction.
Interesting to think about, neat to build. But no ROI will make it a dud.
Walmart will most likely learn some stuff about how to use robots in the shopping experience, but will it create an ROI? My answer is NO. In fact, it will cost sales. Just think about the fact that the cart takes you on the shortest path and no impulse purchases are allowed.
CEO, President- American Retail Consultants
This is an example of a solution looking for a problem. Driverless cars are one thing, but shopping carts are not necessary and would do much to impede the standard traffic flow in a store (these are larger than standard carts and move slower), plus their impact in a standard-size aisle appears to be greater given their slower speed. Plus the safety issues for infants and small children (would you put one of these in a cart like this?), or what would happen if a young child suddenly runs in front of a cart … would it stop in time? This use of robotics raises too many issues in light of the small advantages it offers.
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
Seems like retailers HAVE to seek out crazy tech to make their investors happy. Unfortunately, most of what I’ve been reading about are classic examples of tech products desperately in search of a reason to exist. (I came out of tech. That’s the way the great many engineering operations work — they build what they can then hope it finds someone who cares.)
If Walmart was leading with this as a targeted idea for certain kinds of customers (like to help vision impaired shoppers) then I’d believe them. But it sounds far more like they’re just leaping onto the “driverless” bandwagon and hoping someone cares.
Pretty sad to see. What do consumers really want right now? Good product, well merchandised in a store they like to shop in. A combination of innovations there that are surprising, fun, interesting along with the staples well displayed, easy to find, and smartly priced.
Strategy and Digital Consultant