Where Does Automation Fit into the Future of Retail

Feb 03, 2017 — Christopher Krywulak
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New developments in the retail industry can help prepare businesses to adapt and take advantage of the latest technology—including automation. The convenience of automation means that standardized tasks are performed by machines, without having to rely much on personnel. This allows staff to take on more important, urgent work like providing great customer service.

How does automation fit into the future of retail? Let's consider two ways it can help your retail business become much more efficient.

Centralized retail platform

Consistency in brand messaging helps companies succeed—but without a centralized platform, retailers may be delivering contradictory messages to customers. For example, a customer learns about a new product for sale on a retailer's e-commerce website. They may choose to visit the brick-and-mortar location later, but if they don't see the same product in the store's virtual catalog or digital signage, they can end up confused and less willing to make the purchase.

Retail example: Warby Parker

For eyeware retailer Warby Parker, consistent brand messaging is crucial to their success. The company uses the same color palette, fonts, and layouts on each page of their website to present an uncluttered, attractive view of their glasses. This approach has helped establish trust with their audience by creating a sense of professionalism that suggests the retailer's reliable consistency in visuals extends to online transactions, return policies, and other customer interactions.

Brick-and-mortar stores can emulate this consistency by using a centralized retail platform to automatically update content across their channels.

Order fulfillment

Many common customer complaints involve receiving the wrong item or orders being shipped to the wrong address. This problem usually comes from mistakes made in manual order fulfillment.

By automating order fulfillment, a product can be immediately delivered to a customer's preferred location, whether that's a nearby store or their home. It's as simple as the shopper using a store kiosk or tablet to make the purchase and waiting a short span of time. The more consistent the back-end machinery is when it fulfills the order, the less chance there is for frustrating errors. That means satisfied customers will return to shop again.

Retail example: Macy's and Amazon Go

The department store Macy's recognized the importance of smooth deliveries so they expanded their automated order fulfillment process and turned local retail outlets into miniature distribution centers. As Macy's CFO said, "customers don't really care from where we pull the goods, as long as we fill the order accurately and the delivery is timely." Macy's uses algorithm-based automation to enhance customers' experiences; whether patrons buy online or in-store, they can receive the right item on the same day they order it.

Amazon has taken things one step further by eliminating the checkout process entirely. In December 2016, the online retail giant opened a brick-and-mortar grocery store, where shoppers can step in, grab items, and leave without paying—their Amazon accounts are automatically billed through a special smartphone app called Amazon Go. It won't be officially available to the public until 2017, but this innovative change in shopping technology shows that automation plays a key role in the retail sector.

While brick-and-mortar retailers can't capitalize on this technology (yet), they can ensure order fulfillment stays efficient by using a dropshipping solution. When a customer purchases a product, their order can be processed automatically and delivered to their home or preferred store location immediately.

The convenience of retail automation

As the Harvard Business Review predicts, various forms of automation—such as robotization and digital self-services—could result in a 60–70% decrease in the workforces of service providers. For retail, that means store personnel can focus on tending to customers' needs. To stay competitive, you can use automation to help boost your business efforts.

Incorporating automated tech into your retail business offers a lot of benefits. Learn about three digital alternatives to traditional retail inventory management practices.

Feature Photo: Focus and Blur / Shutterstock.com

Topics: Retail Operations

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