Automation in retail: how to prepare for it? - Part 2

14 września 2020

Building the right infrastructure, buying robots, self-service devices or appropriate software is the part that is logical and understandable. It’s the matter of financial abilities and investment plans of the company. But what will need the most preparations is the sector responsible for workforce and managing it to be ready for upcoming retail transformation. Few ideas presented in this article can be helpful when considering and planning your way into automation of your company.


Innovation is helpful but also demanding


Process of automation compresses the range of employees’ duties. Due to it, workers are responsible for less time consuming but more varied range of tasks. As an example serves standard grocery store, where work consisting of checking shelves, looking for outdated products or cleaning will be done by autonomic robots, instead of human employees. Robot completes the tasks using strict rules. It’s work is fast, precise, and the output data is instantly sent to staff, so their work can also be more effective, what lets them take another, different challenges like customer service or completing online orders.

Automation forces the process of rebuilding whole company organization structure, changing hierarchy, career paths, redeploying responsibilities and creating new ways to better manage all the needed data.


Opportunity for innovation that can’t be missed


Retailers forced by automation to make changes with staff redeployment should consider it not only as a boost for their efficiency, but also great way to show innovation, and stand out on this very competitive market. Employees who are moved from their previous tasks, and who are properly reskilled are valuable source of fresh ideas, which come from their experience.

Good example of these actions is presented by McDonald’s which few years ago introduced self-service kiosks in their restaurants. Now customers are able to complete their orders and pay for them using nice-looking and easy to use system, which they operate by themselves. This solution resulted in reduced queues and improved customer experience. Thanks to automating the checkout process cashiers have less work, and can be redeployed to new, more demanding tasks like helping in the kitchen. Moreover, thanks to this transition, table service was introduced in McDonald’s restaurants, what further increased quality and client satisfaction. In following years we will experience more and more similar solutions, introduced in other sectors as well.


Reskilling over hiring


Together with automation, comes the need to leave physical, and manual skills behind, and focus on technological, social and emotional ones. Retail companies have only three ways of achieving it: hiring new employees, reskilling current ones or looking for freelancers to outsource some tasks.

Although staff exchange seem to be easier and more efficient, finding right people on today’s very competitive labor market is really demanding challenge. Work tasks can be sometimes very specific, and there is not enough skilled and willing to work people. Even freshly hired people will need to take specialized courses, so why not to do the same with current employees?

Requalifying is not easy but in the long term it can have significantly larger number of advantages over disadvantages. It cost less, what can be surprising, it saves institutional, often confidential knowledge. Time for onboarding new hires is also spared. Moreover, retraining employees instead of exchanging them for new, have positive impact on their job satisfaction, and companies PR image.

Companies can use numerous ways in order help their employees with retraining, getting new qualifications or degrees needed for their new positions. Instead of implementing advanced and expensive reskilling programs, it is possible to cooperate with existing external partners like educational institutions, universities, trainers or special online education platforms like Udemy. They are able to offer tailor made courses or certificates, that will make whole process more efficient and easy to go through.


Learn how to catch the talents…


Automation of easier, less demanding processes will lead to shifting workforce to more qualified employees. HR departments sometimes will have hard times, to execute the retraining process. In the meantime they should look for new, eager to work, talented people. In order to find most valuable staff, companies try new, extensive and often expensive actions. There are known examples of moving whole headquarters to places with higher possibility of finding suitable employees, like city centers, trendy districts. Everything to attract young, talented people.

There are also other ways of acquiring talents instead of hiring them directly. One of them is outsourcing some tasks to partner companies or to freelancers. Data show, that nowadays about one third of US employees are working that way, and this trend is rapidly growing. It is convenient for both sides. Companies get access to almost unlimited base of talented people, which they can quickly and flexibly find and perfectly adapt to their own needs, and freelancers have the ability to work for large companies often without the need to move or even to leave their homes.  To simplify connection between companies and freelancers, dedicated online platforms were created, and they are proven to work exactly as planned, helping both sides and raising quality of cooperation.


… and how to develop them


Automated retail facilities have less workers, but those who stayed are far more qualified or talented. It’s important to remember, that savings coming from reduced quantity should be reinvested to gain more quality. That’s why proper appreciation of staff is critical part of company management. Higher wages and additional benefits need to be calculated in every budget, and should be considered as an well executed investment, and not only a must, when there is need for more qualified people. These changes should be preceded by creation of clear rules containing required skills, experience or certificates needed to get a pay rise. Investing in talents can bring not only higher ROI but also fresh, innovative ideas and solutions, able to take the company to a higher level.


Is society ready for upcoming transformation?


Shift in workforce distribution is inevitable part of automation in retail. McKinsey Global Institute’s research shows that 3 of 5 jobs with highest potential automation possibility come from the retail sector. It is also proven that the most severe change will touch low-qualified people, performing simple tasks or physical work. At the same time, employees on more demanding positions will earn more, what will further increase disproportions. Every serious company, that takes sociological problems into consideration needs to answer the question: „How to avoid exclusion of less qualified people?”. The best way is to plan and implement innovative roadmaps of retraining staff, and retail is the best sector for testing these new solutions.


The clock is ticking


Automation is happening right now. It is not a process that you can implement in the matter of days, so preparing for it and taking actions is required immediately, before your competition does it better. Late response to upcoming changes may result in risk of being left so far behind, that it will be impossible to catch up. All matters related to automation and AI should be on the very first page of every company long-term action plan.

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