The role of automation in retail is to automate repetitive tasks that were previously handled by humans. Whether for ecommerce or brick and mortar, there are many mundane tasks and processes within the retail industry that consume a significant amount of time, and where human error can negatively impact the business.
Companies are leaning on automation technology to help them streamline processes, boost profit margins, and stay competitive in an increasingly challenging retail market. Here are a few of the areas most heavily impacted by automation in the retail space.
Hiring and Employment
Perhaps it sounds counterintuitive, but automation in retail and increasingly sophisticated AI in customer service will not necessarily decrease the number of employees needed; rather, the roles will change. Beyond store managers and sales associates, store management will need to focus on filling their payroll with more technical staff members, like omnichannel experts who can develop and oversee the seamless integration between the business's brick and mortar and digital experiences.
These employees will need the technical know-how to be able to work alongside automation technology. Managing multiple chains of automation—from pick-and-pack robots in warehouses, to automated inventory handling, to software bots that help execute supply chain management—will require new skills from retail workers. Technical employees will still be needed to monitor these systems, and those skills will be in high demand in order to keep automated operations running smoothly.
Automation will also streamline tedious processes that once cost hours of manual labor, giving retail business owners, managers, and operations directors more time to focus on developing a personalized customer experience and analyzing data to grow their business profitably.
Anyone who's been involved in retail sales knows that inventory monitoring is an incredibly important part of the business. While robust inventory management tools built into retailers' POS software helps to manage inventory efficiently and address discrepancies before they arise, there has—until now—always been a level of manual work required. And, to err is human.
To combat such, some brands have been turning toward a newer automation technology called Robotic Process Automation (RPA). It is essentially a digital workforce that can do the digital work humans used to have to spend hours doing, automating processes like managing the stock in/stock out transactions and creating the necessary invoicing. RPA enables the seamless and accurate transfer of data between the different systems, including warehouse, finance, and market reporting.
As the "bots" within the software get smarter, they can handle more jobs and make the inventory management process faster, more efficient, and more accurate. This will save businesses time and money in an effort to keep profit margins strong.
The rise of automation, as well as modern cloud technology, has made it possible for startup brands to enter the scene and challenge established retailers. Those starting their retail business online can use their staff—smaller than what would be necessary in a physical store—to monitor automation technology, like chat-bots and RPA systems. These startups introduce a real threat to larger, more established retailers because they start out with these technologies as a core to their business. Larger, more established brands will continue to struggle with their antiquated systems failing to keep up.
Struggles of Automation Implementation
If automation is so great, why doesn't every brand implement it as much as possible? In many instances, it's the lack of skills and capabilities within the organization to get started. In the case of the older, legacy brands, one of the biggest challenges is the momentum of the business itself. They struggle to break free from budget cycles and the replication of last year's spending models.
It's incredibly difficult for large legacy retailers to change processes company-wide when they have thousands of stores and warehouses across the globe. When reports have to show growth every quarter, many executives are reluctant to take a hit to the bottom line while automation processes are implemented, even though these very processes will increase efficiency and profits in the long term.
While difficult to implement in some cases, automation is, without a doubt, the cornerstone in the future of retail.
Springboard Retail thanks the experts at Automation Anywhere for their contribution. This post does not constitute an endorsement of their products or services.
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Topics: Business of Retail