EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The future is now at East Brunswick’s own Stop and Shop, one of the first stores in the area to start using robotic technology. In addition to its human employees, customers can expect to start seeing a new face at the store - “Marty”, a tall, grey robot with googly eyes that patrols the aisles.
After a period of testing, Marty was announced to come to over 172 Stop and Shops, along with its sister stores Giant and Martin’s, on January 14, 2019. Since then, GIANT Food Stores, LLC has been deploying the robots in various locations across the United States. According to a press release from GIANT Food Stores, LLC, the rollout of Marty units is “one of the largest uses of in-store robotics innovation in the U.S.”.
The robots are autonomous, moving about the store unassisted. They have sensors on their wheeled bases, so they quickly learn the store’s layout and are able to avoid objects and customers. Their main purpose is to identify and alert human employees to spills and other hazards. Marty contains a small camera in its base that it uses to take pictures of hazards, while its main body flashes yellow to caution customers and employees of said spills.
Stop and Shop seems to consider Marty’s implementation at its many stores a success, and a hit with customers. Amy Thibault, Stop and Shop’s External Communications and Community Relations Manager, says that “Marty has big, friendly eyes that endear him to shoppers and make him an enjoyable part of the shopping experience. He has made trips to local schools to discuss robotics with students to help drive interest in STEM”. Marty has garnered a lot of attention for the supermarket chain, having been featured in the The Washington Post, Popular Mechanics, and CBS News.
Marty has been met with mixed reactions from East Brunswick shoppers. While some believe that his implementation in the store is innovative and could lead to further uses of AI technology in the workplace. Others simply find him unsettling. Rebecca Gallanter, a frequent shopper at East Brunswick’s Stop and Shop, notes that she “Recently… observed Marty ‘short circuiting’ a bit over a tiny coupon on the supermarket floor and seemingly, that somehow sent a message to the loudspeakers in the store requesting a clean-up in that particular area. Other times, the same types of notifications happened where there didn’t seem to be an incident of any kind”. In addition, she has her reservations about Marty’s behavior. “This past weekend, Marty literally lingered every single place I shopped. I was first cornered right by the strawberries, then continuously within the produce section and throughout the store. It seemed as though he was sneaking up behind many customers, within very close range and a bit too close for comfort. In my opinion, that alone appears to be a far greater tripping and startling hazard than anything else. Many have commented that this is also creepy, stalking behavior. Even the employees appear to feel the same way based upon their annoyed reactions”.
Gallanter did have some suggestions for what could be done to make Marty less obtrusive and better implemented into the store. “What would be very helpful to the customers would be a clear indication of Marty’s role and maybe even a verbal explanation / signage to that effect. Perhaps there is the ability to have Marty interact with us in some way, particularly our youngest customers”, she said of the robot.
Whether customers like him or not, though, GIANT Food Stores, LLC is looking to expand the program towards more of its locations across the country. Only time will tell if Marty will lead to more advanced developments in retail technologies and how the public opinion of him may change.