• Retail Dive

Zara aims to automate pickup with in-store robots

Dive Brief:

· Fashion retailer Zara has begun using robots for buy online, pickup in store purchases, to make sure it can offer customers a quick, efficient pickup process, according to a Wall Street Journal story.

· The service automates the pickup process by prompting customers at pickup stations to enter a code that activates an in-store warehouse robot to begin searching for the requested order. The robot then delivers it to a dropbox.

· The report comes after Zara recently opened a pop-up shop in London to help foster online sales and returns, another example of the company's dedication to digital.

Dive Insight:

Buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) services (or "click-and-collect" if you prefer) are becoming an increasingly common feature of the retail experience. Customers are noticing, too, as one study from the NRF late last year suggested that about 65% of shoppers were aware of BOPIS offerings, while another 68% who had tried the practice were satisfied with how it turned out. Another study, from JDA Software, referred to BOPIS as "the cure for the store."

Increasing numbers of customers growing comfortable with BOPIS, though, means increasing numbers of customers lining up in stores at any given time to pick up their orders. It should come as no surprise then that some retailers are now looking to improve and hone those offerings as much as they possibly can, including in-store space allocation and fast and efficient ways of procuring orders.

Walmart is another retailer who has been investing in BOPIS services. The retailer first started experimenting with automated pickup concepts in 2016, at that time using in-store towers that dispensed online orders, with the packages held inside the towers themselves. It has steadily improved the service as it has expanded it to more stores. This report, for example comes not long after Walmart introduced its latest automated pickup station at a store in the Corpus Christi, Tex., area last month, according to the Caller Times.

As Zara looks to automate in-store pickup, retailers like Walmart, Lowe's and others have invested in robots for in-store inventory scanning, customer engagement and other processes. There may have traditionally been some hesitancy to introduce such technology due to fears of robots replacing humans, but the simple fact for retailers is that they need to keep their in-store lines — whether at checkout or order pickup — moving.

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