Having risen to prominence at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in 2018, we look at Robomart’s latest beta test, as companies tap into the demand for contactless grocery ecommerce solutions.
Autonomous grocery store concept
Robomart is an autonomous grocery store which consumers can summon to their home in less than ten minutes using a dedicated app. Described by the company as a ‘store-hailing’ concept, Robomart aims to provide consumers with their daily essentials. Following various initiatives over the last two years, including launching a delivery programme with Ahold Delhaize’s Stop & Shop banner in Boston in 2019, the company has recently started to test a mobile pharmacy model in West Hollywood. The ‘Grocery Robomart’ will also deploy in the coming weeks, which will give consumers access to fresh produce and dairy items.
How it works
Using the Robomart app, customers can request a vehicle to come to their location. The Robomart stocks over 500 packs of 50 everyday essentials including OTC medication, first-aid, toiletries, personal care items, kitchen products and household goods.
Although the service has initially launched with drivers, it plans to add driverless vehicles to its fleet.
Once the Robomart arrives, it can be unlocked through the app. Using RFID sensors, the proprietary checkout-free system tracks all products taken out of the Robomart in real time, creating a fast and efficient experience for users. To increase speed and product availability, its model distributes inventory into moving vehicles and hyperlocal restocking stations.
Optimsing the partnership model
Robomart has partnered with several companies to bring this concept to the market. These include Zeeba Vans, a California-based fleet leasing company. Zeeba has made a strategic in-kind investment of 100 vans over the next two years which will allow Robomart to scale up rapidly. It is also working with Avery Dennison to supply the RFID tags used to enable the checkout-free experience, while Zebra Technologies is supplying RFID readers and antennas in Robomart’s vehicles.
Pushing the boundaries
The Robomart is a great example of the innovation underway in this area. The model remains relatively unique, although Moby Mart was unveiled as a concept in Shanghai 2017 and Toronto-based Grocery Neighbour highlighted an ambitious growth and development plan earlier this year.
Several US retailers are testing autonomous vehicles as part of their online grocery fulfillment solutions. Kroger has partnered with Nuro in the Houston market, while Walmart has also worked with the company as one of several partners. While they offer the potential to reduce delivery costs, in most areas the legislative frameworks to enable fully driverless vehicles are lagging the technology. However, Walmart has recently expanded its partnership with Gatik to test middle-mile deliveries in full autonomous mode.
Several retailers globally are also testing the use of delivery robots including Co-op in the UK, Amazon in the US and Woowa Brothers Corp. in South Korea. These are better suited to smaller-basket, on-demand deliveries, including foodservice items. We expect to see more testing in 2021, especially given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the demand for grocery ecommerce, particularly contactless delivery solutions.
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