INNOVATION

Automation: What the Future of Retail Will Look Like

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Walmart will hire 350 robots to take inventory of the prices of products and to control stock, says Retail Touch Points, a specialized website. Ford is also working hard to test autonomous vehicles, that is, cars which use cameras and radars to “detect the surroundings” in order to lighten traffic flows and avoid crashes. According to an article published in Perfil.com, the automobile company “says that it will launch a profitable business in which thousands of autonomous drivers will carry passengers and packages around the streets of several major cities.” 

In turn, Alibaba has developed a robot for the hospitality industry, which will help users “bridge the gap between guest needs and the response time that they expect.” Industries, whichever their type, are moving in the same direction and nobody wants to be left out.

Why is automation the future and how will it change (or how is it changing) the retail ecosystem? This is the million dollar question and here are some answers:

A Step Forward

“Customers as an epicenter” is one of the core concepts of the retail sector. Everything is based on facilitating their shopping experience and attracting more and more consumers. Automation serves this purpose: it streamlines processes, increasing profitability and improving product availability. 

Examples of autonomous processes in retail include Amazon Go, with its new auto-service modality, with no cashiers or lines, and Knorr, which has set up smart shelves, just like the Kroger Edge supermarket chain in the United States. As the second case is local, it is more familiar: in Argentina, Unilever uses technologies such as Smart Shelf or Stock Control by Pusher-POP SMART to control the movements of Knorr products in the shelf in real time. This system provides brands and retailers with much valuable information: the frequency of visits, conversions, stock placement and removal, suspicious incidents and movements, among others. This technology also offers video recording and may notify shelf stockers automatically when a shelf is empty so that they can quickly restock it. 

An article published on the website of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company describes how automation is changing the retail ecosystem and how it will change it even further. The article states that nowadays stockers spend 20% of their time on merchandise-planning activities. According to this article published in 2019, “Advanced planning systems can automate historical analytics and generate predictive scenarios, significantly reducing the time needed to plan merchandise and empowering merchants to make faster decisions.” Another interesting fact: operating an “autonomous” store will take between 55 and 65% fewer hours. 

Changing the Mindset

Adding technology to retailers is not enough. It is also necessary to incorporate capabilities that will help them make the most of it. Companies should invest in reskilling their employees so that they can use the new computerized systems. According to McKinsey, “replacing an employee can cost 20 to 30% of an annual salary; reskilling, less than 10%.” To this effect, alliances with institutions and companies are essential. AT&T, for example, has launched their program “Future Ready to train their employees together with the University of Georgia and online platforms such as Coursera and Udacity.

It is also important to know that automation systems do not replace jobs but create new ones. Stockers whose tasks are now carried out by a robot will need to learn how to “read” the information the robotic system generates and make the most of it to plan sales strategies, reduce shortage of visual stock and offer a greater variety of products to consumers, who can be better known thanks to the information provided by new technologies.

“Three out of the five most automated jobs in any sector are in retail,” states the above-mentioned article. These are retail salespeople, office clerks, stock clerks, cashiers and tractor-trailer truck drivers. The incorporation of new automation technologies to carry out these tasks will change the routine of these workers and retailers. It’s better to be prepared for what is coming.

Pusher-POP Smart provides technology applied to the retail industry to streamline processes and improve product availability and visibility in the store. For more information about the solutions available for your shelves, visit pusherpopsmart.com

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