Meet Tory: The robot Kmart is using to manage inventory at its stores

Kmart

Robots will soon be roaming Kmart aisles across the country, with the retailer confirming it is enlisting technology to keep an eye on product stock levels.

Kmart confirmed the existence of Tory, a self-navigating stocktake robot, after a Sydney shopper posted a TikTok video of a tall pink-and-white machine in a Burwood store.

The video appears to have been recorded during the store’s opening hours, but Kmart chief customer officer Lil Velis said the robots will be counting inventory in stores overnight, every night.

“We know that a key customer pain point is product availability,” she said.

“When we have an accurate view of stock, we can help more customers get the products they want, when they want it, [using] whatever channel they are shopping with us.”

Ms Velis said Kmart has only just began rolling out Tory across the country. She said the robot will be a feature of most Kmart stores by Christmas.

@riakia82 #fyp #kmart #technology ♬ Universal Fanfare – The Minions

Kmart robot to take backstage role

Retail Doctor Group founder and CEO Brian Walker said Kmart’s foray into robots differs to that of many international retailers, as Tory will be focused on managing inventory rather than on customer service.

For example, in 2016, American retailer Lowe’s introduced the LoweBot, a multilingual autonomous robot designed to help customers locate items in stores.

Australian retailers have not yet integrated that sort of technology into their stores, but the hospitality industry is embracing it.

In Melbourne, Thai restaurant Dodee Paidang and Japanese restaurant Superhiro have started using robots as servers — as has Indonesian restaurant Ria Ayam Penyet in Sydney.

Mr Walker said retailers around the world were moving faster than their Australian counterparts.

“The global market for retail robots is growing at an annual growth rate of 31 per cent, and so we expect [the retail robot market] to be somewhere around the value of $60 billion by 2030,” he said.

Robots to save stores millions of dollars

Although the global growth in retail robots is mostly expected for in-store customer service, Mr Walker said robots were well suited to repetitive tasks such as the stocktake duties given to Kmart’s Tory.

“The Kmart stock management model is a good example of a highly tedious, repetitive inquiry being done consistently and conveying real-time data about the company and the products,” he said.

“They’ve got artificial intelligence, which gives them machine learning. They’re not going to have a tea break in the middle of it. They don’t miscount. They don’t have all the human frailties.”

An IHL Group study found overstock contributed to more than $471 billion in lost revenue globally in 2019.

Mr Walker said if Tory helped Kmart reduce its overstock by just half a per cent, it could save the company millions of dollars.

“There’s the business case for the robots,” he said.

Wesfarmers, which owns Kmart along with other retailers Bunnings, Coles, The Good Guys and Officeworks, told The New Daily its other stores were currently using no robots like Tory.

But Officeworks and Catch use autonomous mobile robots in distribution centres, with a Victoria-based Officeworks distribution centre finding it can now process about 10,000 orders per day – more than double previous rates.

Major supermarket Woolworths has also been using robots in store to clean spills and check stock levels since 2019.

In 2020, the company announced it would be spending a further $780 million to replace up to 1300 distribution centre workers with robots.

This article was first published by The New Daily.

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