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Retail Tech Roundup: American Eagle Expands Robotics Fleet, Oracle Launches Inventory Cloud

The weekly Retail Tech Roundup compiles technology news across the supply chain, textiles, manufacturing, retail, e-commerce, logistics and fulfillment sectors.

Inventory optimization

Oracle

Oracle has launched the Oracle Retail Inventory Optimization Cloud Service designed to help highlight the “next best actions” retailers can take to optimize their inventory amid unpredictable customer buying habits.

Oracle Retail Inventory Optimization Cloud Service comes with pre-built machine learning models that are designed to more accurately predict overall inventory levels, recommend inventory re-distribution and balance supply and demand to free up money tied up in excess inventory.

The cloud service integrates with existing forecasting and supply chain solutions and can be deployed quickly to reduce the burden on a retailer’s IT and development teams. With the cloud service, retailers can simulate and forecast inventory positions and parameters to eliminate trial-and-error.

As a result, supply chain executives and chief financial officers can come together to navigate tricky terrain, manage cash flow, and determine the impact of inventory on the balance sheet.

The autonomous solution is designed to self-learn to optimize working capital and deliver value by performing continuous optimization of replenishment parameters, informing replenishment strategies with service-to-inventory trade-offs, translating objectives into machine learning-driven replenishment policies down to the item-location, and recommending inventory re-distribution to serve customers and avoid markdowns.

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Additionally, the cloud services leverage time-phased projections to assist with inventory management, and it interacts with Oracle Retail Offer Optimization to drive outcomes through simultaneous manipulation of supply and demand.

Assortment planning

S5 Stratos

S5 Stratos, a cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) products company focused on retail and CPG industries, unveiled that Express completed the implementation of S5 Assortment, a retail assortment planning application that uses AI and machine learning to track changing consumer demand and predict selling patterns at a hyper-localized level.

The AI-driven platform powers a suite of business planning applications that embed advanced data science into user-friendly workflows and are designed to empower everyday users with access to deep insights and recommended actions.

S5 Assortment Planning couples AI with intuitive planning workflows to elevate the assortment planning process by helping retailers determine what products to carry, how much to buy by size, and when and where products should be offered. By providing visibility into customer trends and shifting market dynamics, S5 Assortment can assist retailers in making smarter decisions related to future product strategies and personalized offers.

With extensive coverage for omnichannel preseason and in-season planning across both fashion and basic product types, S5 Assortment can help a retailer eliminate spreadsheet-based tools, streamline processes, improve decision quality and increase organizational agility.

“To support our new go-to-market approach, we identified an opportunity to modernize our order management and assortment planning systems with next-generation technology that will improve data integrity and reduce manual work,” said Matt Moellering, president and chief operating officer at Express. “S5 Stratos has been a great partner on the development and implementation of this new AI-powered solution, which seamlessly integrates with our existing technology platforms, allowing us to make faster, better decisions.”

Digital signage

Reflect Systems/BrightSign/NEC

Reflect Systems, a digital experience provider for retail, entertainment and healthcare providers, has partnered with BrightSign, NEC Display Solutions and NEC Financial Services to offer digital signage packages to help companies drive positive, safe customer experiences through its Retail Resurgence Program (RRP). RRP is designed to enable brands to invest in solutions that will help engage and inform customers and staff.

Additionally, the RRP is designed to help retailers leverage digital signage to maintain sales and boost the customer experience—while also navigating current budgetary constraints.

Through the program, businesses can install effective digital displays and kiosks at no cost for three months, followed by reduced monthly payments for the next 12 months and standard payments for the remaining 24- or 48-month term. The goal is to provide a strategic approach that will drive growth for businesses across traditional retailers and other industries.

Reflect, BrightSign, NEC Display Solutions and NEC Financial Services work closely with each retail customer to create a tailored, interactive experience that entertains, informs and engages customers like never before.

Customers can select—and customize—the following digital signage displays, kiosks and wall-mount kits. Store-front Concierge is a kiosk that greets customers upon entry and provides key information and safety reminders, as well as tracking occupancy and triggering specific content as needed. Checkout Assistant is a kiosk that offers safety, social distancing and store offer reminders in areas where customers are likely to congregate, such as fitting rooms and checkout lines.

The Safety Ambassador kiosk features a digital display with integrated media player to update customers on safety procedures, new store hours or promotions alongside a built-in hand sanitizing station.

There are two wall-mount displays, a Product Specialist that can be placed in specific areas to provide information to customers on key product characteristics to drive purchases, or a Brand Ambassador that can be used to tell a brand’s story, promote loyalty program engagement and convert visitors to customers.

Every wall-mount display and kiosk being offered features a high-definition NEC commercial display, BrightSign HD4 media player with 32GB SD and Wi-Fi module, professional installation, content services and ReflectView digital signage software platform annual license. The program also includes up to 10 hours of content strategy, content development, or content scheduling support at no additional charge.

E-commerce operations

Pattern

Pattern, an e-commerce, distribution and logistics platform provider for marketplaces and direct-to-consumer brands, has closed its first round of outside funding—a $52 million investment co-led by venture capital firm Ainge Advisory and financial advisory company KSV Global.

Melanie Alder, co-founder and chief investment officer of Pattern, said the company has seen four years of revenue growth upward of 300 percent, and she expects Pattern to generate $500 million in annual revenue in 2020.

The funding will allow Pattern to continue investing in data science and global expansion, while further accelerating the capabilities of its proprietary technologies to help partners make better decisions based on real-time data.

Pattern’s technology stack including Predict and Shelf is designed to provide brands a data-driven view into their e-commerce operations and performance across key metrics including SEO, advertising, ratings and reviews, MAP compliance, pricing competitiveness and global distribution.

On average, Pattern says brands see a 40 percent increase in online sales during their first year of partnering with the company, and attain 93 percent brand compliance within the first nine months.

Pattern operates in 18 countries and assists merchants that are selling both their own websites as well as on global marketplaces like Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Google, Alibaba’s Tmall, JD.com and MercadoLibre.

Robotics

Kindred

American Eagle Outfitters is expanding its fleet of Kindred Sort robots and will install 26 additional units in its primary U.S. distribution centers. The apparel retailer has been using autonomous Kindred SORT systems in Hazleton, Pa. and Ottawa, Kan., since 2018 and is adding more to meet increasing safety distancing standards with the surge in e-commerce volume due to COVID-19 pandemic.

To create a safe working environment for its employees amid the outbreak, American Eagle is using AI-powered warehouse robots to increase social distancing measures. Rather than standing side-by-side with co-workers to conduct pick and place operations, one employee can manage three to four Kindred Sort robots simultaneously, keeping up with e-commerce fulfillment while maintaining social distancing.

“AEO is committed to building a supply chain of the future—ensuring we are meeting our American Eagle and Aerie customers however and whenever they choose to shop, and getting merchandise into their hands as quickly as possible,” said Shekar Natarajan, senior vice president, global inventory and supply chain logistics for AEO Inc. “We are excited to continue our partnership with Kindred because artificial intelligence, human-in-the-loop methodology and on-demand robotics as a service are the way of the future. Kindred robots in AEO’s distribution centers have helped to reduce operational costs, increased associate safety, and expedited throughput to better serve our customers.”

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in March, the number of units Sort piece-picking robots process per day has increased by 45 percent.

Sort pick-and-place robots use AutoGrasp, a robotics intelligence platform that identifies and separates individual items to pick and place into an automated putwall. AutoGrasp combines vision, grasping and manipulation algorithms to move clothing, poly bags and other small items.

Kindred Sort robots have picked more than 70 million units in production to date.

Tompkins Robotics

Tompkins Robotics has expanded its product offering with the addition of t-Rail, an overhead robotic system designed to transport a variety of goods and materials with speed and accuracy without disruption to floor-level activities. T-Rail can be deployed in distribution centers and fulfillment centers and is also used with Tompkins Robotics’ new micro-fulfillment solution to optimize operations in a retail store or backroom setting.

The overhead design of the t-Rail system can help both warehouse and in-store fulfillment operations deal with increased demand while also reducing labor requirements and minimizing floor congestion and human interaction, according to Mike Futch, president of Tompkins Robotics.

Warehouses already operating at or near full capacity often have limited space to implement new technology, but the t-Rail’s elevated design aims to make the most out of this space by carrying bulk quantities of items or packages via a hopper or tote. The system uses elevators to interact with floor-level operations, allowing warehouses to maximize valuable space and eliminate floor traffic.

When used in a retail setting, t-Rail can provide overhead transport of loose items, customer orders or cases of goods between the backroom and sales floor without causing aisle congestion or interference with in-store shoppers or workers.

This could include transporting totes of picked items from store aisles to the backroom for online order fulfillment, delivering completed customer orders to their desired destination, including BOPIS lockers, drive-up windows or other pickup areas and delivering items from the backroom to specific aisle segments for store replenishment.