Automation And The Future Of Retail

  • September 20, 2019 at 5:02 PM EDT
  • By Retail TouchPoints Team
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By Stefan
Midford, Capango

Artificial Intelligence
(AI) is completely disrupting every major industry, including retail. From
robotic inventory analysis to cashierless checkout lines, major retailers
across the country are deploying artificial intelligence technology and
automation to create better customer experiences, improve efficiency and drive
sales. With AI being used to predict demand and automate decision-making,
employees and employers alike may wonder what’s in store for the future of
retail.

While the
benefits of AI are endless, some worry that robots will eventually replace
retail workers. However, this isn’t the case. Technology only enhances the
human aspect of both customer service and the retail experience overall. Contrary to what some in the industry might believe,
the reality is that retailers will continue to need passionate
employees to create truly customized in-store experiences.

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For example, retailers like Saks Fifth
Avenue 
have armed on-the-floor sales associates with tablets
and mobile tools. With information at their fingertips, sales associates now
have the insight they need to deepen their interactions with customers and
improve sales — a key differentiator and advantage over online shopping.
Therefore, rather than replacing physical workers, automation in retail will
only enhance the skills employees bring to the table.

AI also is being
deployed to manage the entire employee lifecycle, starting at the beginning of
the employment journey through the improvement of HR and the hiring process. Through
hiring platforms embedded with AI, retailers can better identify, recruit and
retain motivated talent who have the required skill set as well as a passion
for the brand and/or products.

When it comes to finding passionate, qualified employees,
companies can use advanced analytics and machine learning in the hiring process
to better predict which sales associates will not only be successful but also be
the best fit for long-term employment. On average, replacing an employee can
cost 20% to 30%
of an annual salary, whereas re-skilling costs less than 10%
. Automation
makes HR processes more efficient and less costly, and provides leaders with
new insights for a successful people strategy to bring about diverse skill sets. 

Finally, AI can
be used to fuel predictive analytics, improving the understanding of customer
behavior and ultimately, increasing sales for retail businesses. Studies
consistently show that companies that excel in customer
experience can generate a high ROI for the company over time. Additionally,
companies that invest in customer service ultimately have 60% more engaged employees, as well.

Another good example is the Ralph
Lauren Polo flagship store
on Fifth Avenue in New York, which uses smart
fitting rooms with interactive mirrors. Using the mirror’s touchscreen
features, customers can change the settings to see how their outfit looks in
different lighting. Additionally, the mirrors can recommend clothes and
accessories to complete the ensemble. If the buyer is not ready to make a
purchase on-site, they can choose to send information about the product to
their mobile phone. Most importantly, customers also can use the mirror to call
an in-store assistant to help with styling and finding additional sizes. Therefore,
this new AI technology not only serves as an innovative way to engage customers
but also leads to sales.

With about one
in 10 American
workers employed
in the retail industry, it’s understandable that workers may be concerned about
the future of automation in retail. However, the future of retail is bright, as
technological advances will only enhance the retail employee’s ability to
provide exceptional customer experiences and improve engagement. 

Stefan Midford is the president
and CEO of
Capango, a
mobile-first retail job matching platform that connects job seekers to
rewarding opportunities without resumes. In this role, he is responsible
for spearheading the company’s strategic direction, identifying growth
opportunities and leading expansion initiatives. Midford has more than 40 years
of proven experience in the retail industry and is dedicated to solving
challenges and developing solutions related to retail execution, field
management and on-demand workforces.

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