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Cleaning robots on the front line

07 September 2020

In light of the recent pandemic and with communities just beginning to open up, European-based retailers are tasked with a difficult responsibility. Michel Spruijt examines how they can ensure customer and employer safety while successfully executing their day-to-day operations.

In one recent survey by C+R Research, 60% of shoppers said that they’re currently afraid to go into a supermarket due to fear of catching the virus. What measures can businesses take to restore confidence and instil trust? 

From March 27 to March 28, 2020, C+R Research asked 2,012 consumers about their grocery shopping and delivery experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we asked consumers how their shopping habits, budgets, experiences, and diets have changed. 

According to respondents, 73% are shopping less frequently at physical grocery stores. When shoppers do travel to a store, they’re opting to get their shopping done early. In fact, 40% of respondents said they shop for groceries in the morning while only 17% shop in the evening. 

They’re also stocking up on items as 46% said the pandemic has led them to buy items in bulk. It’s interesting to note that even though many respondents say they buy in bulk, 89% believe limits should be placed on items.  

And, during this time, brand loyalty has taken a backseat. Overall, 76% said they do not go out of their way to find their favorite brands. And when it comes to comparison shopping, people are basically split on looking for deals (48%) and buying “whatever is available” (52%). 

Shifts In shopping and diet 

Buying in bulk and brand loyalty are not the only changes that consumers are experiencing. About half of consumers say they are paying more for items (48%) as well as witnessing a change in their diet or eating habits (47%). Among those who have changed their eating habits, 47% are eating more processed foods; 36% are eating less produce; and 26% are eating less meat or poultry. 

Delivery services

With consumers making fewer trips to physical grocery stores, their use of delivery services has increased. According to respondents, 44% said they are using more restaurant, meal-kit or grocery delivery services and apps. Among grocery delivery apps, the most popular are Amazon Fresh (31%), Walmart Delivery (25%) and Instacart (24%). Considering the convenience factor, 27% of respondents said they plan to continue to use grocery delivery apps once the pandemic is over and life returns to a state of normalcy.  

Protecting shoppers 

Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted shopping habits, but it also has caused other psychological effects on consumers. According to respondents, 60% feel a sense of panic or anxiety when they shop. So, are stores doing enough to ease the minds of consumers when they shop? More than one-third of shoppers (35%) said more should be done to protect consumers from COVID-19, and 50% said grocery stores need to do more to properly protect their employees. 

Taking protective measures such as limiting contact with others can help limit the spread of COVID-19, which is why it is important for both consumers and businesses to do all that they can together in order to combat the pandemic.    

You can learn more about consumers’ evolving attitudes and behaviors during COVID-19 with our Consumer Roundtable discussions. 

Methodology 

For this report, we surveyed 2,012 self-reporting via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk survey platform from March 27 to March 28, 2020. 42% were male and 58% were female with an average age of 39. Income: Under $10K: 10%; $10-19K: 9%; $20-29K: 11%; $30-39K: 12%; $40-49K: 13%; $50-74: 22%; $75-99K: 12%; Over $100K: 11%. Note: Amazon Mechanical Turk respondents may be more likely to use Amazon services such as Amazon Fresh.

One key area that all retailers should be reassessing is their cleaning program. Implementing and showcasing increasingly flexible and consistent cleaning operations will be an important component of winning back customer business. Cleaning should be thought of as a new brand value. 

 In order to address this paradigm shift, some businesses are turning to autonomous cleaning solutions. With employees being asked to do more and more, robotic floor care effectively gives valuable time back to teams so they can focus on high-value tasks only humans can do, such as sanitizing surfaces and restocking shelves. Autonomous cleaning solutions can perform the same task multiple times a day, ensuring greater consistency and better quality than those run manually. What’s more, robots produce digital reports that clearly detail the execution of a cleaning program. This type of reporting ensures that cleaning activities are quantified, visualized, and proven. 

Companies like Walmart, Kroger, and Ahold Delhaize are examples of major retailers already actively deploying or considering this technology. Walmart announced the rollout of its “Auto-C” program back in October 2018 with an initial 360 robots being placed at stores around the country. In April 2019, Walmart announced an expansion of the initiative, with an additional 1500 robots being added to stores by the end of the year.  Ahold Delhaize, the Dutch-Belgian retailer behind brands like Albert Heijn, recently kicked off a Cleaning Bot Challenge that asks technology companies to submit proposals for a customised solution. 

Brain Corp, a company providing the AI technology that powers the world’s largest fleet of robotic floor care units, saw retailers increase their machine usage by 24% during April 2020, compared to the same month last year, and by 18% during the first four months of the year overall. Of that 18% increase, more than two thirds (68%) occurred during daytime hours, exhibiting a clear move towards “around the clock” cleaning programs.

In this new era, customers will choose to shop at places where they feel safe. This means that retailers can’t afford to compromise on clean. They must clearly demonstrate an investment in keeping both their employees and customers safe and healthy. Robots help businesses effectively rise to this challenge and showcase that a brand is willing to take action. Autonomous cleaning solutions act as helpful tools in ensuring the work gets done and meets current as well as post-pandemic expectations.

Michel Spruijt is the vice president and general manager of Brain Corp Europe, an AI company creating transformative core technology for the robotics industry. Michel is responsible for partner support, team expansion, and the oversight of general operations throughout the region. 

 
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