Why automation is key for retail success

It’s fair to say that right now, the retail industry is in unchartered territory. Not only do brick-and-mortar stores face an increasing number of external pressures, they must also find ways to best serve customers who expect seamless omnichannel shopping experiences.

One potential solution to this problem is automation. After all, 100 per cent of respondents in a survey of corporate retail professionals (CRPs) agreed that automating inventory management would have some net benefits. The introduction of robots in stores could also improve employee productivity (76 per cent) and be embraced by customers (61 per cent).

But in what other ways can automation help retailers? And how can you make it work for your business?

Making online and offline work together through automation

Making online and offline work together through automation

One of the challenges of delivering omnichannel shopping experiences is making online and offline worlds work together. Even when brick-and-mortar stores start selling their products or services online, they treat this space like an independent business. As a result, inventory is managed separately too.

“Accurate, real-time product inventory data is the crux of a seamless omnichannel retail experience, and it’s clear that automation holds the key to helping retailers understand what’s happening in their stores and on their shelves,” says Martin Hitch, the co-founder of robotics company Bossa Nova.

“The data these technologies collect serve as ‘ground truth’ for stores and enable retailers to transform their store operations. By offering – and delivering – on the omnichannel experience customers demand, retailers will reap the rewards of this brave new world.”

Even something as simple as your POS could be contributing to poor inventory management. Modern systems feature the ability to run reports, update inventory and sync data where you need it most. You can also reward customers automatically with tracked loyalty programs.

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Knowing where and how automation can work best

Along with in-store applications, automation is set to transform other areas of retail such as supply chain and HR. For example, automatable activities account for approximately 30 to 40 percent of the time of merchants.

“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,” noted the McKinsey report Automation in retail: An executive overview for getting ready.

As for HR, automation could make processes more efficient and provide leaders with new insights for successful people strategies. McKinsey cites the example of one retailer who championed automation through both mobile and web apps to reduce hiring time by more than 80 per cent and store administration hours by 20 per cent.

Then there’s supply chain, which offers several use cases of automation, with retailers at the forefront of implementation. As the McKinsey report explains: “Automated smart robots can store, retrieve, depalletise, and transport products—all while calculating optimal routes through a warehouse. Drones and robots can also be used for security and safety surveillance and for quality checks.”

Automation might seem like a next-generation technology, but several retailers already depend on it. Now’s the time your business should adopt automation too.

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