December 14, 2022 at 8:20 AM EST By Skip Howard, Spacee
Ever visited a retail customer service desk looking for a specific item and been told “The system says there are three in stock, but if they aren’t on the shelf, we don’t know where they are.”? Most shoppers have been in this frustrating position at least once (and most retailers, daily).
While virtually every retailer uses inventory management software, they still suffer from stockouts, and often find that physical inventory counts don’t match what the software is reporting. There are many reasons for this, including changes that occur between the time a measurement is taken and when the reporting takes place, and shoppers or staff placing items on the wrong shelves.
In recent years, new computer vision technology has emerged that enables retailers to take instant, accurate inventory snapshots. These near-real-time measurements are far more accurate than physical inventory processes, and generally more accurate than inventory management system counts, because they are based on what’s actually on shelves and in stockrooms — even if it’s in the wrong place.
Retailers are turning to these new systems to:
So, what’s preventing retailers from taking real-time inventory snapshots today? Incredibly, many are still doing inventory using handheld scanners, having staff traverse the store. Shelves might be scanned once a week at the most. This labor-intensive process relies on staff who are incented to be fast but not necessarily accurate — retailers tell us that on average this approach results in a very low 30% accuracy rate, making it almost useless.
Those that use roving aisle robots report a 60% accuracy rate — better, but still not great. Other companies have piloted webcam-style static cameras mounted on shelves, which can be even worse than roving robots in terms of accuracy and integrity — the cameras are easily blocked by people, boxes and carts, making the images useless.
Inventory measurement frequency is also an issue. Retail is a chaotic environment. Shoppers are constantly picking things up and putting them back, often in the wrong place, and it’s impossible for stores to prevent or control that. Even taking inventory once a day is not enough to do it right.
Growth in eCommerce and curbside pickup have brought these issues to the forefront and made them more urgent for retailers to fix. Retailers that want to gain real-time inventory snapshots should look for the following features:
A large CPG recently told me, “If we had accurate data on what’s on retailer shelves, we’d need one-third the trucks and one-third the people, and we’d know exactly what to put on each truck instead of guessing. We’d save $1 billion a year.” Retailers are moving toward that point, as real-time inventory snapshots have moved beyond a nice-to-have.
Skip Howard is Founder and CEO of Spacee. He founded Spacee the company in 2016 with the idea of building natural user interfaces and reactive intelligence into the physical world. Howard drove the development of Spacee’s computer vision technology, and the company grew to be one of the leading technology companies in the spatial augmented reality and robotics sectors, with multiple customers in retail, automotive, and manufacturing. Howard has worked in the technology industry for 20+ years. Prior to founding Spacee, he was Founder and CTO for Cancer Gene Connect, a hereditary cancer risk assessments leader, and Co-founder of Pave Systems, a judicial software company. From 2007 to 2015, Skip served as an integral member of Ross Perot’s technology team at Hillwood Development Company.