Red McKay, European Managing Director at Bossa Nova Robotics talks to A1 Retail about why robotics and AI are helping retailers.
Who is Bossa Nova, what is Bossa Nova's mission, and why are you different to other retail robotics companies?
Red: Bossa Nova is a data service provider for global retailers. Bossa Nova's technology automates the collection and analysis of on-shelf inventory data, helping retailers improve product availability, streamline operations, and create a better shopping experience.
We've been testing in stores since 2013, learning, listening, developing and cost developing our product. Our robots are currently deployed in 50 Walmart stores across the United States, making it the largest deployment of this kind of technology anywhere in the world. We are currently working on adding an additional 300 robots to Walmart stores.
Given our experience, we work with retailers globally from initial strategy development and technology assessment through to design, procurement, integration, implementation, and ongoing maintenance and updates.
We are a business that works to large scale, with an understanding of the complexity of the problem and a scale operating model to supply the market-leading data service solution to the world's leading retailers.
Can you explain more about the cutting-edge technology you've created?
Red: The ability to capture, in real time, each product's 2D image and all its identifying characteristics and to feed that data back in an actionable format is transformational in the omnichannel landscape. This is a targeted use of technology that re-energizes the relationship between a human colleague and technology. We capture and present data on a vast accuracy scale and need the store colleagues to act on that data.
Our robots scan whilst in motion with no need to slow down or stop, and in 90 seconds they can scan 60ft linear aisles with 90% accuracy. In-store safety is a big focus for us, and we're pleased to say that our robots have scanned over 24,000km of aisles autonomously, with zero human or environmental collisions.
Bossa Nova has been operating in the US for 8 years - why did you decide to enter the EU market? Why is now a particularly good time to move into this area?
Red: We strive to deliver excellent customer service, but different time zones and long distances can make that difficult; with the increasing awareness and need for Bossa Nova services in Europe, it was an easy decision to support the European retail markets with a head office here.
The landscape is incredibly exciting and is filled with forward-thinking teams that are already engaging in the next generation of retail technology.
Why is data so important to retailers?
Red: Data has always been important to retailers. It's at the core of most business decisions that lead to a premium customer experience in omnichannel shopping. What has changed in recent years is the speed and method of capturing and actioning that data. A process that used to take a day is now expected in hours, or even minutes. To get that premium service, actionable data that helps retailers absorb, analyze and forecast for the future needs to be with our client's decision makers in real time - so this is what we provide.
How can retailers pay for use on the robots - can they buy them outright, or can they lease them, for example?
Red: We don't sell our hardware. The robots are specifically designed to provide the data that retailers are in need of.
What do you see as the current challenges for grocers adapting AI into bricks-and-mortar?
Red: Due to significant shifts in customer behavior, there are a range of different AI and tech solutions on the market, claiming to solve a range of retailer's business problems. Budgets and challenging profit targets mean that these retailers have to make the right choice; in the current environment, there's little room for mistakes.
Does it replace jobs?
Red: With the data Bossa Nova provides, we are creating more paths to keep stores optimized, which in turn dramatically improves the overall shopping experience for employees and shoppers alike. The value Bossa Nova brings is data, taking the existing error-ridden process and replacing it with actions that drive revenue, profit and customer satisfaction. Our tech is there to support stores and their teams.
Our technology helps re-energize the relationship between a human colleagues and digital innovations. We know that physical store team are needed to act on that data. Bossa Nova delivers the best results when staff and technology are working together to boost in-store efficiency.
How do customers and staff respond to the robots?
Red: There is a symbiotic relationship between in-store staff and Bossa Nova's robots. The robots are good at repetitive tasks like scanning thousands of labels within store aisles and analyzing that data, but they're not equipped to actually move the individual product onto the shelves. Naturally, store associates are good at physical tasks, so the labor is divided between both groups and they work in tandem. In a well optimized store, one can't work without the other.
On the customer side, children are playful with the robots by nature but most members of the public choose to ignore the robots and continue with their shopping. We often get customers who want to understand the technology and ask questions, which is fantastic to see.
This article originally appeared in A1 Retail Magazine on May 16, 2019.