The retail industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by a number of factors including supply chain optimisation and the growing importance of technologies such as automated shopping facility assistance, automated merchandise dispenser racks, and robotic order fulfilment. In the last three years alone, there have been over 133,000 patents filed and granted in the retail industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Robotics: Autonomous delivery management.
However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.
Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.
70+ innovations will shape the retail industry
According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the retail industry using innovation intensity models built on over 128,000 patents, there are 70+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.
Within the emerging innovation stage, autonomous vending is a disruptive technology that is in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Robotic order fulfilment, automated inventory management, and autonomous delivery vehicles are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are cashierless store and autonomous delivery management, which are now well established in the industry.
Innovation S-curve for robotics in the retail industry"
Autonomous delivery management is a key innovation area in robotics
Autonomous delivery management systems do the job of delivering goods from retailers autonomously without human intervention. Delivery robots are rapidly gaining popularity for this purpose. An operator can control the robot remotely and guide it through obstacles that it cannot navigate through by itself.
GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established retail companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of autonomous delivery management.
Key players in autonomous delivery management – a disruptive innovation in the retail industry
‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.
‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.
Patent volumes related to autonomous delivery management
|Company||Total patents (2010 - 2021)||Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies|
|Cox Enterprises||121||Unlock company profile|
|Walmart||115||Unlock company profile|
|Nuro||113||Unlock company profile|
|FedEx||33||Unlock company profile|
|Toyota Motor||21||Unlock company profile|
|Locus Robotics||16||Unlock company profile|
|Zume||16||Unlock company profile|
|Ocado Group||15||Unlock company profile|
|Indigo Agriculture||14||Unlock company profile|
|Qualcomm||9||Unlock company profile|
|Intel||8||Unlock company profile|
|Ford Motor||7||Unlock company profile|
|LG||6||Unlock company profile|
|Ninebot Beijing Tech||6||Unlock company profile|
Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics
Leading patent filers in automated delivery management include Cox Enterprises, Walmart, Nuro, and FedEx. In August 2022, Walmart announced that it was testing a robotic delivery vending machine provided by Tortoise, a silicon-valley startup, at a store near its headquarters.
In terms of application diversity, Cox Enterprises, LG, Ninebot Beijing Tech, and Walmart are the leading players.
In terms of geographic reach, Ocado Group, Ford Motor, Locus Robotics, and Ninebot Beijing Tech are the top players.
Deliveries through robots have several advantages including faster and more predictable deliveries without breaks or downtime. More players in the retail industry are likely to adopt robotics for deliveries as leaving deliveries to robots can allow personnel to focus more on higher value activities.
To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the retail industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Retail.