The retail industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by operational efficiency, convenience, and the growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and cloud. 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: Robotic order fulfilment.

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

Robotic order fulfilment is a key innovation area in robotics

Robotic order fulfillment has been gaining momentum in the space of supply chain optimisation. Robotic order fulfillment employs robotic software and hardware for the automation of online order fulfillment for brands, retailers, and logistics providers. It minimises reliance on human intervention, while improving accuracy and speed of fulfillment.

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 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established retail companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of robotic order fulfilment.

Key players in robotic order fulfilment – 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 robotic order fulfilment

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Walmart 122 Unlock company profile
Cox Enterprises 121 Unlock company profile
Nuro 113 Unlock company profile
Alphabet 61 Unlock company profile
Nio 40 Unlock company profile
FedEx 33 Unlock company profile
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance 31 Unlock company profile
Toyota Motor 16 Unlock company profile
Locus Robotics 16 Unlock company profile
Ocado Group 15 Unlock company profile
Indigo Agriculture 14 Unlock company profile
Ford Motor 12 Unlock company profile
Emerging Automotive 11 Unlock company profile
Trax Technology Solutions 10 Unlock company profile
LG 9 Unlock company profile
Zume 9 Unlock company profile
Qualcomm 9 Unlock company profile
Coca-Cola Enterprises Great Britain 8 Unlock company profile
Honda Motor 6 Unlock company profile
Sycamore Partners 6 Unlock company profile
Ninebot Beijing Tech 6 Unlock company profile
Intellectual Ventures Management 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leading players in the robotic order fulfillment space in terms of patents filed are Walmart, Cox Enterprises, Nuro, and Alphabet. In November 2022, Walmart opened a new-generation fulfillment centre to enhance its distribution. The facility employs machine learning, robotics, and automated storage, enabling improved productivity and faster delivery periods. Retailers, including Walmart and Amazon, have been streamlining their supply chains to fulfill their online orders efficiently and quickly.

Leading players in the robotic order filfillment space in terms of application diversity are Cox Enterprises, Nio, Emerging Automotive, and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance.

Leading players in terms of geographic reach are Alphabet, Coca-Cola Enterprises Great Britain, Ocado Group, and Locus Robotics.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the retail industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Retail.


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.