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Future of Retail: How Automation Can Help Your Business

Some stores are open for business, some are closed for good, and for most, the future will likely no longer be the same. In fact, Coresight Research reported that as many as 25,000 U.S. stores may close in 2020. Malls and the traditional department stores will look very different as consumers that once window-shopped or strolled in stores have now altered their habits, opting for the safer, quick in-and-out errands and online browsing. Retail will have to adapt to new consumer habits.

Though there is currently an uphill journey for many retailers, new innovations can allow businesses to once again thrive, meeting the needs and demands of their shoppers. Consumers are not the only reason for changes in the retail landscape. The safety of employees is a large factor too. Retailers will be faced with deciding how to facilitate social-distancing procedures for worker and shopper safety, while also continuing to perform business operations both efficiently and cost-effectively.

Technology was important to the functioning of stores pre-pandemic, and as retailers continue reopening, automation will be at the forefront of their success.

Benefits of Automation

Many retailers, in one way or another, have already integrated automation in their business procedures, and as stated by McKinsey, those who have not yet adopted automation are already far behind. From how shoppers purchase goods and products to the methods retailers use to receive and send those goods and services, there are countless ways in which automation improves retail operations and the overall shopping experience—when done right of course. For small businesses, launching automated technologies might be new territory, and it’s important to have an informed approach. It helps to know about the different benefits of automation, as well as the types of automation that retails stores can implement. To begin, here are four important benefits that automation can provide retailers.

1) Worker and Shopper Safety

Automation promotes safety in retail and production environments by helping to protect workers and shoppers from, or eliminating, close face-to-face contact. The use cases around safety procedures in the workplace are not just limited to virus protection, but injury prevention as well.

2) Customer Experience

As more and more consumers are doing their shopping online, the typical brick and mortar retailer will be considering how to refine customer experiences to better compete with the ecommerce space. One way to do so is by incorporating technologies that make the shopping experience simple, exciting, and customized. From in-store discounts presented by QR codes in emails and on apps, to contactless grab-and-go self-checkouts, automation can help stores provide the same, if not more enhanced, experiences as online shopping at home.

3) Productivity and Efficiency

Automation can improve production methods, maximize output, and speed up interactions. As new products and workflows are added, automaton allows process changes while limiting disruptions in operations. Eliminating inevitable human error, automation allows for precise and consistent results. Additionally, the predictive analytics component provides retailers the ability to better plan for inventory and online demand.

4) Cost Savings

Improving process control and reducing lead-time, automation helps businesses lower their operating costs while increasing ROI. Less staff is needed at once, and paired with eliminating human error from the equation, automation can go a long way in cutting costs for your business. Also resulting in significant cost savings, the sustainability aspect of automation can prove beneficial to retailers. This is because automation can help to optimize floor space, which leads to a more efficient store design. Additionally, automation reduces waste and energy expenditure, resulting in lower totals in your stores’ monthly bills.

Types of Retail Automation

Just as there are many advantages in adopting automation, there are also a great variety of options to choose from, each with their own benefits and features. If you haven’t already noticed these before the pandemic, here are a few types of automation that will likely be observed in the future of retail.

1) Self-Checkout and Service Kiosks

Contactless checkout, ordering, and self-help kiosks play a role in both safety and improving customer service. Shoppers can scan and bag their items, potentially helping to limit the spread of COVID-19 through the handling of goods. In addition, in-store specific coupons can be printed out or scanned via QR codes to enhance the experience for shoppers, encouraging them to come back to the store at another time for more shopping.

2) Digital Lockers and Vending

The ability for shoppers to ‘Buy Online Pick Up In Store’ (BOPIS) was a trend than began before COVID-19, and is now in higher demand. In fact, Adobe Analytics reported that sales contributed by BOPIS grew more than twenty-three percent from June to July. Locker and vending units, a great facilitator for BOPIS, offer secure and efficient drop off and pick up capabilities. Consumers can continue to run last-minute errands, but more safely than they would if they had to browse through aisles to find the items that they’re looking for. Some locker and vending options, like those offered by CompuCom, include anti-bacterial barrier screen covers and UVC lighting in units to assist in killing 90% of pathogens.

3) Robotics

Robotics come in many forms, carrying out and turning around work much faster than people. This in turn can save costs on labor and energy while also reducing waste. Excess materials often accumulate throughout supply chain operations, and human interaction simply cannot guarantee the same level of precision as robotics when it comes to optimizing resources. As the use of robotics isn’t considered new to the supply chain process, specifically in warehouse operations, it is somewhat new to use robotics in the final stretch of supply chain—moving goods from the stockroom to the store shelves. Robotics, like those with "teach and repeat" technology currently piloted by Brain Corp, promote worker safety by helping to prevent the spread of germs and by helping to prevent worker injuries related to the handling of heavy products.

4) Apps

This last example is one that may be pretty familiar to many consumers, thus allowing for easy adoption. Apps can be downloaded and used by anyone with a smartphone, not only providing a contactless approach to ordering, returning, and requesting support, but also offering a lesser learning curve for both shoppers and employees.

Where to Get Started?

How you implement new technology into your retail space makes all the difference, and choosing a partner with the experience and know-how is important, especially if you haven't yet ventured into the wonderful world of automation. Helping to reduce costs and work with your business to best meet your specific needs during this difficult time, managed services providers, like CompuCom, can help your business digitally evolve to meet the needs demanded by the future of retail.

The current state of retail may seem bleak, but in looking to the future, automation will play a key role in the eventual in-store comeback.

Meet the Author

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Tim McCulley

Senior Mobility Solution Architect

Tim is CompuCom's Mobility Consulting Senior Specialist. He is also our Digital Lockers and Vending Subject Matter Expert. He enjoys working with good people to develop and deliver superior services and solutions to our customers.