ARE ROBOTS A SOLUTION FOR THE RISING COST OF OPERATING A CONVENIENCE STORE?


The members of the Baby Boomer generation may remember watching The Jetsons, an animated cartoon series that placed a typical 1960's family into the space-age future.

George and Martha Jetson had a domestic robot named Rosie, who did the cooking and cleaning - and served George drinks when he got home from his daily space-ship commute. "The Jetsons" did not do so well at predicting the future. Granted, it’s not 2062 yet, but so far we don’t have flying cars, our family routines are less idyllic than in the Jetsons, and we have robots in our houses yet - but in the world of retail, robots have already arrived and don’t plan on leaving. The space age future is now. Here are a couple of examples:


Love's Travel Stops has opened its first Jamba by Blendid autonomous robotic kiosk at its Williams, California, store, adding a healthy foodservice option for customers 24/7.

"The official opening of our first Jamba by Blendid robotic kiosk is an exciting day for us and, hopefully, our guests. We hope customers are visiting the Williams, California, location enjoy this fun new way to quickly access refreshing, delicious smoothies on the go," said Joe Cotton, vice president of food services for Love's.

The Jamba by Blendid kiosk offers visitors smoothie options inspired by Jamba and powered by robotic foodservice solutions company Blendid.

On the other side of the globe, to make up for the shortage of staff, shops across Japan are using ‘TX SCARA’, a small robot with clip-like hands. It has been developed by Telexistence, a Tokyo-based company. In the words of CEO Jin Tomioka, it has been designed to ‘automate all the repetitive jobs and boring jobs done by humans. TX SCARA has artificial intelligence (AI), named GORDON, which knows when and where products are to be kept on shelves. On the end of its mechanical arm, the robot has a hand with which it picks up objects. The machine is mostly used in ‘conbini’, or Japanese convenience stores. Within these shops, guided by GORDON, it picks up bottles, cans, etc., and places them on (mostly refrigerated) shelves. Telexistence claims that TX SCARA can restock up to 1,000 bottles and cans per day.


Businesses turn to automation to make their operations more efficient and to cope with a lack of available workers. But this year, as labor markets tightened and employee pay rose, companies responded with an unprecedented investment in robotics.

The Association for Advancing Automation reports that the number of robots ordered by North American companies set a record in the first half of the year. In the second quarter alone, companies ordered more than 12,000 robots worth over $580 million — a 25% increase in orders compared to the same period in 2021.

The increase coincides with federal numbers showing worker compensation costs up more than 5% in the quarter — the highest increase since the Labor Department began tracking those numbers more than 20 years ago. Consumer demand also remains robust despite persistent inflation.


With the rising cost of operation of convenience stores, in part caused by the increasing pressure to raise the minimum hourly wages, the robotization of store operations is rapidly becoming a reality rather than science fiction. As the robot burger flippers, shelf stockers and smoothy servers become increasingly attractive from the financial perspective, it is important for c-store operating companies to have a clear vision of where and how to introduce the robotic helpers to the store customers, without causing a negative effect on the store attendance.


Ticon’s comprehensive analysis of demographic and marketing data can provide insight on the areas where the age and education levels of the local population are at the levels that are supportive of advanced technology. So-called “early adopters” can be the best customers to embrace the robotized service at convenience stores.


With Ticon’s reports, the c-store operations planners can feel more comfortable in making a data-supported decision about investments in new technology that will improve the ROI and make the company look even more attractive to its customers.