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Giant Eagle tests shelf-scanning robots

Chain aims to reduce out-of-stocks, boost store performance

Giant Eagle is looking at how robotics can help it keep track of changes on store shelves.

The Pittsburgh-based grocery chain has begun piloting the Tally autonomous shelf-scanning robot from Simbe Robotics at Giant Eagle and Market District supermarkets in the Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, areas.

Giant_Eagle_Tally_robot_report.pngThe companies said Wednesday that, in the current deployment with Giant Eagle, Tally robots travel the stores’ floors multiple times daily and use cameras on their sides to scan about 35,000 products in the center store grocery and health and beauty care aisles. Every 30 minutes, the store teams receive a detailed data report from Tally on the status and availability of merchandise on shelves. The information is designed to help store associates better control out-of-stocks, ensure accurate pricing and optimize each store’s product layout, in turn improving store performance. (Click here to see video of Tally the robot in action.)

“At Giant Eagle, our culture is to focus on the customer experience. A big disappointment for us would be if they’re coming in to buy a product and we don’t have it. So we wanted a way to address out-of-stock conditions. That’s what Tally brings to us,” said Roger Wolfe, senior manager of R&D at Giant Eagle.

“Labor is tough in stores. If we could reduce time that people are spending walking the floor looking for out-of-stock conditions, they could focus on other customer value-added tasks,” he added. “We’re not losing jobs or replacing people because there’s a robot in the store. We’re just trying to have the product in the store when customers are here to pick it up.”

San Francisco-based Simbe noted that Tally can audit shelves more frequently, much faster than current processes and “with near-perfect accuracy.” The robot uses sensors to navigate the store floor, and Giant Eagle customers and staff can shop and work safely alongside it. “It doesn’t interfere or crowd customer space,” Wolfe said. And because the robot is fully autonomous, it returns to its charging dock on its own.

Tally works in tandem with Simbe’s cloud-powered software platform, which employs computer vision and machine learning technology to give retailers a sharper picture of the state of their stores.

For Giant Eagle, the Tally robots can provide a highly accurate inventory count of front-facing items, detection of low- and out-of-stocks, identification of misplaced and improperly facing or oriented items, validation of product price tags, and third-party supplier compliance and vendor management, Simbe said.

“Giant Eagle is investing in cutting-edge inventory solutions to ensure the products customers want are where they expect them to be,” said Simbe co-founder and CEO Brad Bogolea. “With Tally, Giant Eagle can leverage actionable data about what’s happening on shelves. Tally’s insights add immense value to Giant Eagle customers by improving their overall in-store experience, and to store teams by empowering them with frequent, accurate inventory information.”

Overall, Giant Eagle operates 474 stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana. That includes 216 grocery stores under the Giant Eagle, Market District, Market District Express and Giant Eagle Express banners as well as 258 convenience/fuel locations under the GetGo and Ricker’s banners.

Simbe said it now has partnerships with more than a dozen retailers, including Schnuck Markets, French grocery giant Casino and Decathlon Sporting Goods, among others.

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