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RFID-Equipped Bots Give Apparel Stores New Merchandise Management Tool

Simbe Robotics added RFID and machine learning technology to its Tally shelf-scanning robot, expanding the device’s uses cases and applications in store.

This class of store-floor robots is seen as reducing or eliminating altogether some of the “grunt work” that falls to associates while improving operations. Traditional inventory cycle counts typically involve scanning guns and labor-intensive hours roaming endless aisles reconciling what’s actually on shelves with what should be there.

For retailers, the costs of misplaced products and out-of-stocks pile up quickly and create missed sales opportunity to the tune of $1.75 trillion, according to IHL Group data from 2015. With consumers more impatient and demanding than ever, a lost sale in Store A often translates into a successful transaction for Store B.

That’s among the factors driving innovation and investment in the inventory automation space. Combining a wealth of sensors and technologies like computer vision, the 30-pound robot navigates store floors alongside shoppers and employees alike, continuously auditing store shelves and alerting personnel when anything’s amiss. With the addition of RFID, Tally can read 700 tags per second at a 99 percent accuracy, Simbe said, and the bot can do this across product categories including apparel, electronics, home goods and sporting equipment to name just some.

“Brick and mortar retail is changing rapidly. Innovative technologies, like RFID and computer vision, are starting to become more mainstream as retailers think about how they can optimize in-store operations,” Durgesh Tiwari, Simbe’s vice president of research and development for hardware, said. “Tally’s ability to read RFID is providing unprecedented product and inventory insights by harmoniously using RFID and computer vision.

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Previously, Tally was not being used to manage store-floor inventory like apparel, but now with the one-two punch of RFID plus computer vision, the robot can both scan RFID tags to track inventory on items including apparel, and take images to ensure store floors are properly merchandised and maintained, a Simbe spokesperson said.

“Simbe is constantly looking for new ways to provide retailers with greater visibility and insight into product inventory and the state of their operations,” Simbe Robotics CEO Brad Bogolea said. “RFID sensing is a natural next step as we think about game-changing technology that will increase inventory intelligence and help retailers create a better customer experience.”

The company said over the past 9 months it has worked with retailers in the U.S. and abroad to trial Tally’s new RFID capabilities and “several international retailers” now have fully deployed the devices.

Since its launch nearly three years ago, Tally robots have roamed 4,500+ kilometers in-store, recorded more than 32 million photos of store shelves, and analyzed in excess of 150 million products and shelf tags, Simbe said.