The holidays are here! In the retail business, this is one of the biggest times of the year. Studies done by Sensormatic Solutions show that all the busiest shopping days in the U.S. are in the months of November and December. In 2019, consumers in the US spent $642.58 billion during the Christmas period alone, according to Retail Research.
On a daily basis, retail businesses have many tasks to fulfill. Shelves need to be stocked, inventory kept on track and stores need to be cleaned, all while customers continuously expect the best service possible. In a time of new technologies and innovation, the industry is looking for methods to help increase their efficiency and boost their productivity.
Autonomous cleaning equipment can aid businesses not only during the busiest periods but throughout the whole year. Cleaning robots can alleviate employees by taking the most repetitive tasks off their hands. This way employees can focus on ensuring that customers are met with an increased level of support and accommodation.
Walmart, one of the biggest retail corporations in the US, has implemented autonomous floor scrubbers in their stores since 2019. Their rollout has expanded to the point that almost 2,000 floor scrubbers were cleaning their retail stores by the end of last year.
Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, stated in an article for Linkedin that: “the overall trend we’re seeing is that automating certain tasks gives associates more time to do work they find fulfilling and to interact with our customers. We consider those interactions a competitive advantage now and in the future.” By using autonomous cleaning solutions, Walmart hoped to improve the efficiency of their employees and provide customers with better service.
All in all, adding autonomous cleaning robots can have significant impact on improving business for retail stores.
According to research done by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), there is a positive correlation between the adaptation of robotic equipment and the productivity in businesses worldwide. Autonomous solutions, like self-driving floor scrubbers or autonomous vacuum sweepers like Whiz by ICE Robotics and Softbank Robotics can take over repetitive and mundane cleaning tasks from employees. With the help of Cobots, autonomous cleaning robots, staff will have more time on their hands to do other tasks, which will help increase their productivity. Ultimately this will also allow them to focus on work that is often missed or even skipped due to lack of time.
These high-value cleaning tasks are crucial in providing a healthy environment for customers. Especially in times of a pandemic, it is very important for retail operations to focus on cleaning at the best of their ability, so customers feel safe to come into their stores and continue to come back.
At Walmart, stores without the autonomous scrubber still use manned floor machines for their cleaning tasks. Here employees spend on average up to 2 hours of their 8 hour-shift operating the scrubber. This is a considerable amount of time that staff could use for more high-value tasks. Introducing autonomous cleaning solutions can in this way help to make sure more work gets done, in the same amount of time.
According to CleanLink, Ragan Dickens, Walmart's Director of Corporate Communications says, "The decision to add this technology was an easy one. We are able to give our associates the freedom to complete other tasks within their job description while this machine does its job."
Not only can autonomous cleaning equipment help to increase the productivity of employees in retail stores, it can also aid in upgrading the environment for the customers. By using cleaning robots the level of hygiene in a mall or grocery store can also be raised significantly.
When autonomous cleaning solutions take over the repetitive tasks for retail employees, they will now have the time to invest in other high-priority responsibilities. For example, staff will now be able to sanitize high touch-point surfaces like tabletops, handrails or shopping baskets more often. This is crucial, because scientific research shows that indoor environments that are regularly occupied by humans are the main source of viruses and other airborne diseases. By cleaning them more regularly and consistently, customers will be shopping in safer and healthier environments.
Aside from that, it is important that customers can visually see that the environments they are in are being cleaned. When they see autonomous robots cleaning floors and cleaning staff focusing on other important tasks, they will get the visual perception that the space they shop in is being cleaned and maintained. This will provide them with the reassurance they need to continue to shop in that space—turning them into repeat customers.
Not only do autonomous cleaning solutions free up time, they can also clean more consistently and more often. They are not on a nine-to-five schedule and are able to clean at any time that best suits a particular retailer, like after closing hours. Besides that, autonomous cleaning equipment can offer improved cleaning efficiency, retracing a series of exact routes and repeating these throughout the day to ensure a consistent level of cleanliness.
For example, in Singapore malls are introducing autonomous robots that clean surfaces with ultraviolet light. This way, mall operators can ensure the ongoing health and safety of their staff, tenants and shoppers. In a conversation with DigiconAsia Low Chee Wah, the CEO of Frasers Property Retail, said: “The deployment of the AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) at our malls will enable us to step up our efforts to protect the communities we operate in and relieve the manpower resources on labor-intensive cleaning tasks.”
Besides the effects the robots can have on the physical health of customers, autonomous cleaning equipment can also help improve the overall experience in a store or supermarket. Due to data tracking capabilities, intelligent cleaning equipment can provide detailed reports of the machine’s activity, which help prove cleaning has been done adequately. These technologies provide a so called ‘confirmed clean’, which aids in keeping customers safe—and this information can be accessed through an app or computer, so managing an entire fleet of machines can be done from one location.
Plus, since these solutions take time off the hands of staff, they will now be able to focus on tasks that require more human attention, like customer service. According to RisNews, retailers don’t want to distance customers from employees by automating every aspect as some might expect. On the contrary, they wish to stimulate the engagement with customers. Retail employees can now spend more time helping customers, solving problems and stocking shelves. In this way, customers can continuously count on the best service during their shopping trips.
Often employees initially fear that they will be replaced by robots. Many workers think that autonomous equipment will take over their jobs, making them dispensable. However, this fear is unjustified, since robots will always need help from humans to make them work. Typically, autonomous equipment will need to learn routes or develop patterns as it works through its interface, which must be managed by people in order to effectively accomplish goals.
Through learning how to operate this new equipment, employees will develop new skills that can be useful and can help them grow in their job. They will not only gain a new skill, but also have added responsibility, since they will now be the one in charge of managing the machines. This way retail employees will add value to themselves as workers, which can help them grow and develop in their job.
In a conversation with CleanLink, Walmart states that their associates have embraced the technology, which the company describes as a "partner" for the worker. This describes the function of the autonomous cleaning equipment in a great way, since these solutions are designed to work with a store’s employees, not against them.
The SmartSheet report on automation in the workplace mentions that 78% of the participants in this study said that they believed automation will allow them to focus on the more interesting and rewarding aspects of their jobs. When employees can concentrate on the parts of their job they enjoy the most, they will not only be more productive but also get more satisfaction out of their workday.
ICE Robotics is an industry leading floor cleaning equipment provider. We provide autonomous and intelligent cleaning solutions through a subscription model that includes fleet management software at no extra cost. For more information on how ICE Robotics can help please reach out to our Client Care Team.