Automation in Retail Shops Shouldn’t Mean Fewer Workers

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Since the pandemic in 2020, retail merchants have seen the industry landscape change dramatically. Offering clients omni-channel payment methods, shifting to online orders, pick up, and delivery services has become the norm. In addition, merchants have had a harder time hiring as wages have risen and unemployment has fallen. Some retailers have had to slash their expenses, including their workforces, often replacing humans with technology.

Now, retailers can automate more tasks than ever, including pricing, inventory management, checkout, and enhance theft prevention. And with artificial intelligence poised to speed up and redefine basic retail tasks, many merchants are investing in this non-human technology to help run their business. But there are drawbacks to eliminating workers out of the retail store equation.

Cutting Back Staff Isn’t an Easy Fix

Probably the most visible example of how stores have expanded their technology use is self check-out. They can be found at major retailers like Target, Kroger, and Five Below. But they are also a good example of how humans aren’t easily replaced. Consumers do appreciate self-service options but have higher customer service expectations than they used to, and they find it frustrating when technology needs a helping hand from a worker that may not be available.

Merchants using AI technology to foster customer services and scale back on their workforce showcases another way that eliminating employees isn’t always the best choice. In this instance, technology can alert store employees when lines are too long or help customers get information quicker – which are all improvements to the process. However, AI can actually free up those staff members so they can conduct higher-value tasks and concentrate on growth opportunities that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. That type of investment can bolster the business overall.

Retaining good workers is also key to a successful business. When a retailer runs lean to shave off costs, it tends to have negative effects on their laborers. When retail employees are overworked, underpaid or don’t have a great work/life balance, they tend to have poor morale and lack loyalty for an employer that they feel isn’t treating them well. When employees are paid fairly and treated well, they can be the biggest assets to a business looking to build a brand and loyalty among customers.

Use Technology to Support Staff, Not Replace Them

Automated solutions—like self-checkout, self-serve kiosks, and AI-powered inventory tools—can be a great investment, but hitting staff and customers with a barrage of new systems all at once can have negative consequences. Follow these best practices for successful implementation:

  • Create a digital strategy that introduces new tech slowly and thoughtfully
  • Properly train employees on the adoption of technology—and provide ongoing training when necessary
  • Avoid launching during busy times like the holiday season
  • Empower employees to give their feedback, not just after implementation but as investment decisions are being made
  • Set employees up for success so the new tools provided serve as an asset, not an obstacle

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