When we think of robotics in the grocery space, we usually think of back-of-the-house initiatives that pertain to activities like packing and sorting items. Rarely, however, have we seen these technologies get repurposed for consumer-facing initiatives… until now. The popular supermarket chain Giant Food Stores recently began its rollout of an unexpected new employee: Marty the robot. In what sounds like a Sci-Fi novel, each of its 172 stores has now received their very own Marty unit.
But what makes this so special? Here’s our take:
Giant Food Stores has put forth an initiative to free up its human workers to engage with customers instead of spending time on other activities. As is often the case with the grocery industry, buildings can be massive, and staff can get preoccupied with the monotony of checking each aisle to make sure there aren’t store needs that warrant tending to. With Marty diligently scanning the floors to identify hazards like spills, it creates extra time for employees to go and speak directly with customers, ultimately providing better service to patrons.
Marty acts as a way to alleviate less meaningful duties from a store’s staff so that they can focus on what’s most important: the customer. Physical stores are fighting to stay relevant these days, and one key core competency that can help is providing exceptional customer service – something that’s much harder to do through the cold feedback loop associated with eCommerce. This new technology push is yet another example of how brick and mortar locations are trying to compete with online offerings by creating opportunities for differentiation.
While we’ve certainly covered the functional aspect of having a Marty unit in grocery stores, there’s also a form component that warrants talking about. This type of technology rollout is among the first of its kind, providing shoppers with a unique experience when walking the aisles. After all, you don’t always see a googly-eyed robot wheeling towards you as you’re grabbing a box of waffles. Marty represents the largest deployment of robotics in supermarkets ever, and if it pays off, Giant Food Stores will be heralded as a pioneer in the movement to integrate technology with shopping.
The experience provided to patrons as they interact with Marty leaves a long-lasting impression in their minds, furthering qualities like brand affinity and recall. The idea is to boost customer sentiment towards the supermarket chain so that the next time they need to run to the store for a carton of milk, they’ll think of Giant instead of other competitors. Will the effort pay off? Only time will tell, but it’s certainly one step towards the future of grocery technology that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
As with any newly emerging technologies, there are growing pains. Innovations take time to become mainstream, and for the consumer base to adopt as their new “normal.” Having a robot perusing the aisles isn’t the first thing grocery patrons expect to see when they walk into your store. Keeping that in mind, it’s crucial that businesses find creative ways to introduce and transition the implementation of units like Marty in a manner that doesn’t alienate its target audience.
For example, here are some of the most common customer and grocery staff sentiments, as quoted by Mashable:
- “I talk to him [Marty] I take videos of him. I show them to my kids… he just makes me smile.”
- “It’s really not doing much of anything besides getting in the way,”
- “I finally met Marty today and he scared me as I turned the corner. He just roams around and makes ominous beeps constantly. Robots taking over at my local Stop and Shop in MA.”
- “Met Marty the robot in my local Stop & Shop last night. He followed me around the store. Still not sure how to feel about it.”
The jury is still out on whether or not Marty will provide enough value to customers for Giant to continue with the technology. Innovation takes time, trial, and error. All said and done, this is one more move in the right direction. We’re certain there will eventually be tweaks to both Marty’s programming and demeanor based off of customer feedback, and will keep readers briefed on any new innovations hitting the Grocery industry as we learn of them.
Our team specializes in putting together compelling IT Infrastructures which improve your store’s bottom line. If your business is interested in taking its technology initiatives to the next level, we encourage you to schedule a meeting with our team using the Calendly plug-in on the upper right corner of this page. We’ll reach out to discuss your unique business goals so that we can begin crafting a solution that best fits your needs. If you’d like to read more of our thoughts on technology trends for brick and mortar locations, check out our blog here.