Monday 20 March 2017 3:11 pm

Roboshop: How Morrisons is using artificial intelligence to stock its shops

Morrisons is using artificial intelligence to stock its stores in a bid to improve efficiency and customer service.

The supermarket is rolling out a system from tech firm Blue Yonder that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict exactly what is needed in each of Morrisons' 491 stores.

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Morrisons has been trialling the technology in select stores for around 18 months, and is now introducing it across its store portfolio. To build its stocking algorithm, Morrisons gave Blue Yonder three years of sales data for every single store, and the exact weather around every store over the same period.

This means the algorithm knows which stores sells more pies, and when, but it can also learn. Live weather updates are fed into the system, so it knows what the weather will be like two weeks in advance, and if the algorithm gets the stock amounts wrong, it learns from its mistakes. 

In addition, store managers can add in events. For example, the store manager in Glastonbury can tell the algorithm when the festival is happening, and it will make sure the right number of beer crates are ordered.

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Staff will no longer have to use pen and paper, or (more recently) iPads, to order goods. A spokesperson for Morrisons said no jobs will be lost as a result of the new technology and that employees will instead be able to spend more time on the shop floor helping customers.

During the trial, Morrisons found the technology reduced gaps on shelves by 30 per cent. At Christmas, Morrisons improved sales with the technology, as trading patterns were more accurately predicted, allowing the supermarket to shift more product. Hours of staff time were also saved in each store where the trial was taking place.

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Throughout this year, all product lines apart from clothing will be stocked using the system. 

Markus Juhr-De Benedetti, chief revenue officer at Blue Yonder, said: "We are delighted to have supported Morrisons in improving their product availability and therefore better serving their customers. The retail landscape is changing faster today than ever before; Blue Yonder’s mission is to provide a competitive advantage to retailers through machine learning."

The move from Morrisons comes as Amazon develops its first grocery store, which will also use machine learning to improve customer service. But Amazon is aiming to go one step further, and plans to have no check-outs in stores.