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Think it’s too soon to invest in robotics? Kroger, Walmart, Dominos and Walgreens are already ahead of you

Fri, May 31, 2019.

Ed Kirchmier

VP | Consulting, Retail and Consumer Products

Imagine a day when your groceries, prescriptions or pizza can be ordered and delivered using only robots, with zero interaction from a human being. Well, that day is now!

Major retailers, restaurant chains and pharmacies are piloting unmanned autonomous vehicle delivery for their goods. These vehicles are temperature controlled (cooled for groceries; warmed for pizza) and adept at maneuvering both busy thoroughfares and local neighborhood streets. Not only does this experience wow the customer by providing an easy to use service, many companies see long-term cost savings advantages with a more autonomous and efficient workforce.

Here’s some initial pilots from Kroger, Walmart, Dominos, and Walgreens:

Kroger, the grocery retail powerhouse, is experimenting with both unmanned autonomous vehicles to deliver groceries, as well as fully automated robotic warehouses. The goal is to create a seamless delivery process that relies on robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to stand out and capture consumers who want fast deliveries without hassles. Read more here.

Already experimenting with unmanned autonomous grocery delivery, Walmart is also dramatically expanding its “human” delivery offering, with plans to end 2019 with an online grocery delivery option available in roughly 100 metropolitan areas. According to Walmart’s head of e-commerce, they want to make sure they “stay on the cutting edge of grocery delivery by exploring what’s new and next.” For a traditional brick and mortar retailer, that means establishing a dominant online footprint as well as experimenting with autonomous delivery. Read more here.

Domino’s is testing self-driving food delivery in Miami. The vehicles will be manned, but outfitted to look like there’s no driver. This will allow Domino’s to study consumer interaction with a seemingly driverless car delivering food. Beyond just test driving an autonomous vehicle, Domino’s wants to learn the many unforeseen challenges that might arise with robot-only delivery. Read more here.

Walgreens is testing autonomous delivery of medicine using the FedEx Same Day Bot, a child-sized robot designed to navigate streets, steps and traffic signals. Walgreens wants to “leverage the latest in innovative technologies to provide a differentiated pharmacy and health care experience.” Like many retailers, that means getting product to customers wherever they are and whenever they need them. Experiments like these are an excellent opportunity for Walgreens to learn more about the challenges associated with last-mile delivery. Read more here.

While much of the “cool” innovation is seemingly located within the robotic vehicles themselves, digital process integration is key to making these initiatives work by connecting the ordering platform (mobile/web app), the operational platform (baking, picking, packaging) and the delivery platform (vehicle).

From the above examples, we can see that the following are needed to make a seamless flow from order to delivery:

  • Creating an app capable of processing mobile payments
  • Identifying the type of goods ordered to accurately notify the delivery vehicle of the appropriate temperature
  • Sending the customer’s GPS location to the vehicle for the delivery
  • Scheduling multiple stops most efficiently within the vehicle delivery plan in a multi-order scenario
  • Sending a notification to the consumer’s phone when the order has arrived, including instructions
  • Providing an unlocking code/pin to authenticate the buyer when he or she is in close range so the vehicle can open the appropriate door or cargo location
  • And much more

Don’t underestimate the effort required to build and test the automation and integration needed to stitch all the processes together. Many user stories handling all the business rules need to be defined and planned into the agile development process. Each platform may have its own APIs or other ways to push data to/from the upstream or downstream platforms. Investing early in the integration of the end-to-end processes produces the most reliable and seamless experience to the customer.

At OZ, we have the know-how to harness these digital platforms to make customer experiences similar to those developed by Kroger, Walmart, Domino’s, and Walgreens a reality for our clients.