“In the post Covid-19 world, the only place cos are willing to invest is in automation. The return on investment that we expect from our automation programs is between 5-10x.” – Anand Laxshmivarahan, Chief Digital Officer, Cairn
The world is in a bad shape right now, attempting its best to rise again, after the pandemic pushed it down, heavily. Just like most other industries, the retail segment has faced a sudden setback in its operations, business efficiency and profits. Satisfying customer requests with proper safety measures, limited resources and effectiveness has been a challenge. The only thing that can positively transition the industry to a successful business output is automation.
Now is the time of automation being adapted with open arms in all industry segments, especially the retail industry. The increasing development in areas like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, machine learning, IT software solutions pertaining to retail functionalities is taking the industry to a different level.
And to add to the crux, the pandemic has almost forced industries to rapidly digitize and automate their operations. Industry experts have realized the importance of automation and how well can it take care of the retailers, in these tough times. Automation is competent to take care of all business operations ranging from inventory management to customer behavior analysis to demand forecasting to order management to retail auditing and so on.
As per proven statistics, two thirds of business leaders used automation to respond to the impact of COVID-19. 73% of organizations worldwide are now using automation technologies – such as robotics, machine learning and natural language processing – up from 58% in 2019. The proportion of organizations deploying automation ‘at scale’ has tripled over the past two years.
Here are some very evident changes that are being witnessed across the retail sector, worldwide. These are proof enough to verify the increasing importance of automation in this industry segment.
- Brands are making special efforts to connect and create a rapport with customers, online
- Online shopping is on an increasing spree, with customers demanding efficient experience
- Automation is helping customers to be loyal to brands and organizations
- Retailers can provide increased personalized experience, knowing customer preferences and feedback
From a retailer’s point of view, the pandemic has increased investments in automation techniques to garner more of efficiency and profitability. Automation has been on everyone’s futuristic plans, but these tough days have convinced retailers to make it happen much faster, accepting it as the need of the hour.
Key Challenges Faced by Retail Sector
Just like peer industry segments, the retail industry is under pressure. There are many challenges that are being handled by retailers to keep up the business output. Customer expectations continue to demand high-end quality services, irrespective of whatever difficult times are faced by business owners, pertaining to the pandemic. Below listed are the challenges that are now convincing retail business owners to increasingly adapt to automation techniques, making their business easier and faster:
- Controlling variations in demand especially when the physical stores have been shut
- Managing liquidity assets and handling the cash quotient
- Increasing number of customers preferring the online way of shopping
- Adhering to standardized rules and regulations while serving customers
- Taking care of safety and security of employees, sales staff, and clients
- Handling long term supply problems, inventory issues, longer lead times etc.
- Multiple options available for each product/brand
- Increasing production costs and limited availability of resources
A Good Read: Gartner Trends 2021: What They Mean for Retailers
What Are the Major Benefits of Business Automation in Retail Sector?
Business automation has been helping the retail sector in many ways, because of which there are certain evident benefits that are being witnessed:
- The level of customer satisfaction has been increasing day by day and a greater number of orders and business is witness to the fact that customers are happier now.
- Burden has reduced on the head of employees, sales staff and managers since the automation processes have taken up most of the work, leaving the human resources to do more of creative work.
- Collecting actionable data and working on further insightful information has now become easier with the help of automated software solutions that act as a great window to access needed information in the desired time and format.
- Newer and innovative ways of creativity, loyalty programs, personalization methods will get more way for a better business and a great customer experience.
- Customer loyalty is being recognized at a much higher level that will be crucial to have long term business association with customers and prospective clients.
- Reconciliation of accounts can be done through automated processes with ease and accuracy, lessening the burden on human resources.
- Warehouse management systems can help in replenishing inventory automatically, streamlining the entire inventory process with ease.
- Tracking competitor pricing, adjusting prices accordingly and ensuring that retail prices are affordable are key takeaways with automation.
- Sticking to standardized procedures according to rules and regulations can be better managed, monitored and analyzed.
- Round the clock customer support can be provided with automated processes and tools like chatbots and intelligent routing.
How Is Business Automation Helping Retailers to Survive Tough Times?
Here are certain ways and means by which technology and automation has transformed the retail industry, to grab the above-mentioned benefits:
- Artificial Intelligence Enhancing Supply Chain Activities and Personalization
Prior to automation, there were many supply chain hurdles faced by retailers. The advent of AI has helped the supply chain segment to perform at its best, including logistics, stock, inventory, and distribution, staffing etc. real time management of information can be done with ease, offer the latest and accurate information to customers. Demand fluctuations and trends can be easily predicted and perceived by brands to offer a personalized experience to customers.
AI has proven helpful in offering a personalized touch to business, increasing customer satisfaction standards. Shopping patterns and trends are now well taken by business owners leading to a direct impact in the overall business productivity and profitability. AI is helping the industry by offering timely promotions, commissions, discount schemes, notifications, alerts etc. This is leading to a direct impact on keeping customers happy and thereby, having a rich retail experience.
- Contactless Retail and Voice Activated Display Is More in Demand
Now is the time when retailers will have to grasp the need for contactless retail business. Customers are wanting that and there is no way to let that go. AI and related automation activities have helped in automating many procedures like contactless returns and payments, voice enabled digital output, online payment without human intervention etc.
Embedding automation activities through AI in the retail experience is proving to be of great importance in increasing business output in terms of efficacy and profitability. It offers a great deal of flexibility to retailers when it comes to meeting fluctuating demands and offer the best of customer experience.
Retailers are bravely and positively accepting AI related automation processes as they understand its significance and worth. Voice search and recognition is one area that has been adapted by retailers as it caters to customer demands, without any contact establishment. Searching for a particular product through AI assistance has become much easier, increasing brand visibility, and offering customers their preferred choices, even before they think of it. It does sound like magic, but AI enabled voice-based assistance is just about that.
- Automation is Enhancing Shipping Activities
Especially during these tough times, there has been interesting automation activities in the shipping sector. Peer competition has been increasing and to be ahead of the rest, businesses have been adapting newer technologies like drone-based deliveries to offer same day delivery. There are better algorithms that are enhancing the overall business experience with increased RoI and decreased lag time. There are better ways of dealing with shipping delays so that customers get the shipment on time. Delivery processes have become more effective and quicker, with further advancement in automation of zero touch deliveries, weight management, return of goods etc.
- Chatbots and IoT are Revolutionizing the Retail Industry
These are not new; they have been around since quite a few years. But the importance of having chatbots and IoT devices is now increasing at a great pace. Retailers are now realizing the significance of the same. The chatbot and IoT market has been reaching new heights with new implementations around the globe, especially in these trying times.
Chatbots have been making life easier for the retailers and customers alike, attempting to thin the bridge between the two, with least human intervention. It has been trying to replace the human part of customer interaction with best of answers to queries and appropriately redirecting to the relevant human in-charge when time comes.
IoT services and solutions have been bridging the gap between the physical world and digital world, through the most advanced IoT devices. The retail segment is finding it easy to manage business with these IoT devices.
- Deep Learning, Robotics and Barcode Reading are Transforming Retail Stores into Profitable Units
With cutting edge tools like deep learning and robotics, retail stores are now converting into distribution centers making the most of these technologies in automating major activities. These revolutions are offers great deal of cost effectiveness and faster execution of work, especially in the times of the pandemic when the need for online execution is a must.
Barcode reading and scanning devices are proving to be apt for capturing data with accuracy and speed. With the demand for online retailing increasing, the need to maintain logistics is sure to be more and such technology automations are bound to give a thrust to end results. Other automation processes like digital cameras, real time image capturing, machine vision cameras etc. are acting as great support in enhancing business operations and efficacy. Now, with these modern cameras, it is even possible to identify objects without reading the barcode. Dependency on humans is decreasing, fastening processes, and accessing data real-time.
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Offers Great Results in Retail Sector
RPA has been doing great work in many industrial sectors, the retail being one of them. It has been analysing a huge amount of sales data with analytics and these automated analytical results have been offering real-time insight into customer behaviour and preferences. Predictive and future-based decision making is much easier with these RPA based systems. It has been helping big time in finding out trouble areas, missing leads, problems in increasing sales etc. This helps decision makers in filling in the loopholes and increasing business.
The competence of RPA helps in streamlining collection, formatting and regulation of data that helps in working out business as per planned schedules. Asset management can be controlled in a productive way leading to faster execution of business. RPA brings with it the capability to use the valuable data in creating a personalized shopping experience for customers.
- Automated Processes and Software Solutions Help in Better Marketing and Launching of Newer Products
Being the crux of retail business, a good marketing strategy is important. Automated software solutions and processes help in implementing marketing campaigns, commissions etc. in a better planned manner, alluring customers to avail the best of it. This helps in increasing business in a much better manner. Automation has been a great help when it comes to launching new products. Interaction between various departments, ascertaining the quality of the new product, ensuring customer satisfaction etc. are some of the key objectives that can be attained for a new product, through launch of automation processes or software solutions like CRM, SFA etc.
Thanks to Automation – The Retail Segment is on a High!
As one of the competitive and fast-moving industry segments, the retail and FMCG industry has faced its share of challenges but has come up in a big way, thanks to automation and relevant tools and technologies. Retailers are making sure their customer segment is completely satisfied and there are more conversions from leads to prospects to customers.
There are innovative retail and FMCG software solutions that are offering insightful information through analytical applications, encompassed by extensive industry knowledge. The amount of robustness, flexibility, quality, support, and ease of use that automation and these solutions offer has been a great catalyst in pushing the boundaries of the retail segment. These solutions have been instrumental in keeping the flag of the retail industry high, despite tough trying times. The pandemic has shown the retailers a new way of doing business and business process automation is leaving no stone unturned in uplifting the business success of retailers.