Rise of the robots – are they coming to take your job?

Rise of the robots – are they coming to take your job?

By Dan Hartveld, CTO, Red Ant

Around six million retail jobs could be lost to automation by 2027, according to a study by Cornerstone Capital Group. Some believe automation will be good for the industry, while others see it as a threat to the way we work. 

At a time when hundreds of people already risk losing their jobs because of the seemingly relentless economic challenges faced by retailers, it can be hard to see any positives.

However, one of the advantages of automation is that it raises standards for services needing a human touch - our physical and virtual interactions will continue to evolve into something more in tune with our needs. Here’s what to expect.

Retail staff and their status will see an improvement post-automation

Automation will undoubtedly bring about the end of more routine retail tasks, as ‘hygiene’ functions become less dependent on human input. We’re already accustomed to self-serve, self-scan and chatting to bots, and our encounters with ‘robots’, whether we’re aware of them or not, are going to become part of the fabric of our lives. 

Retailers have to prepare for a two-tier system – automation for hygiene-level repetitive services, teamed with higher-paid, better educated human specialists to provide advice and support for customers with more complex needs. 

This should result in new opportunities for often undervalued and overlooked areas of employment – once they are free from their more monotonous tasks, people working in sales and services will be able to elevate their roles and skill up.

Shoppers will always need engaged, informed staff

We’re led to believe that shoppers are actively avoiding leaving their homes because they can get everything they need online. It’s true that the convenience of e-commerce is one of the key drivers for in-store transformation, but customer behaviour has consistently proved that they crave a physical shopping experience, and spend more money in stores that give them the best of both worlds.

‘While it looks like those predicting a ‘rise of the robots’ have nothing to fear, this doesn’t mean they have nothing to do”

A survey by field marketing agency Gekko showed that most 18- to 24-year olds – an age group traditionally believed to do all of their shopping online - actually prefer getting a personal service and recommendations from in-store staff. 

Retailers need to make this happen by giving staff the power to become a trusted shopping companion, equipped with the information they need to advise, order, sell and cross-sell both online and offline, using customers’ personal preferences as a baseline.

The industry must prepare for a more skilled, emotionally intelligent workforce

Retail will see its human resources operations restructure to accommodate the involvement of IT, due to the necessary adoption of automated elements to achieve routine tasks. Success depends on sales and service colleagues becoming part of the transformation engine rather than simply units for processing business. This depends on equipping them with the right tech, delivering real-time cross-business information to provide the kind of experience their customer is looking for. 

Emotional intelligence will be just as important as product knowledge – the ability to not only master in-store tech but also read the customer, apply what they know about their personal situation and work with them to make sure they leave the store with a purchase and the intent to return.

Ultimately, while it looks like those predicting a ‘rise of the robots’ have nothing to fear, this doesn’t mean they have nothing to do. Change is inevitable, and the retailers who embrace it and make it work for their staff will reap the rewards of having a better-educated, more fulfilled in-store team, ready to deliver increased sales and improved customer experience.

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