It is hard to ignore the media sensation around robots, automation and artificial intelligence – while the benefits are clearly documented, there is still a certain amount of nervousness in the market. Will robots really take our jobs? Or are they actually ideally placed to make routine tasks like data analysis easier to manage, leaving skilled workers to leverage their experience to handle more complex tasks?
Automation: pulling together, not working against each other
The industry needs to get a better understanding of how AI can actually benefit their business, while making the most of the human resource available. A report from the Martin School at the University of Oxford and Citi estimated that, while perhaps unsurprisingly 80% of retail transportation, warehousing and logistics jobs are at risk due to automation and artificial intelligence, 63% of sales positions are also under threat. Removing sales staff from the shop floor would be the wrong approach for retailers, as they should be enabling their employees to do what they do best.
Humans hold key skills that automated machines do not and cannot – empathy and a responsive customer service cannot be replicated easily, and customers will always be aware they’re talking with a robot and not another person. The key is not to listen to knee-jerk analysis that on-the-floor jobs will be cut in favour of our android brothers and sisters, and instead develop a better understanding of how we can work together to increase the advantage. Let the machines take care of the manual time-consuming processes that require analysis of vast quantities of data, such as replenishment.
A new approach to stock replenishment
For decades, large-scale retail companies have used manual processes to anticipate consumer demand, and stock replenishment has often been based on gut feeling, assumptions, existing agreements with wholesalers and expectations that are hard to measure. However, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning have meant that retailers are now able to replenish their stock with much greater accuracy, and automate this process. This eliminates the need for manual intervention, and enables staff to devote more of their attention to delivering the very best customer experience.
Man Versus Machine
Humans can’t compete with AI when it comes to analysing data, making predictions and optimising the replenishment process. AI solutions can make millions of decisions and hundreds of millions of calculations daily, which in return helps retailers to make better replenishment decisions and to move away from slow, manual and timely processes.
But in a market where consumer spending patterns are changing and ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers are under ever more pressure from online competitors, retailers must recognise that their key differentiator is the personalised service they can offer customers.
With the rapid development of technology disrupting entire markets, AI will become central to retailers’ business strategies in order to push innovation forward. But only the most forward-thinking retailers will implement strategies that leverage both AI and human resource that can very rarely be replaced.