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How to Prepare for Robots in Retail

By: Brittany Engelmann-- 2017-05-04 6:05 am --

The headlines are hard to miss. Something’s brewing in retail.

Artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning are on their way, and they’re going to change everything about the retail industry, including who works for you and what skills are important.

What should the average store owner be doing to get ready for the wave?

First thing is, don’t panic. This wave of new tools will offer a lot of assistance and simplify many processes if they’re implemented correctly within your business. Some of the smartest businesses in the world are already using their own systems to great effect and soon the technology will be ever-present in even the smallest of shops.

What is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a type of Artificially Intelligent computing that has the ability to learn without being specifically programmed.

Imagine those possibilities.

Marketing firm Blue Yonder studied 750 grocery stores around the world and found when decisions on pricing and replenishment were turned over to automated assistants that employed machine learning the results were cost effective.

  • There was less waste from accurate replenishment projections
  • More capital savings due to pricing optimization
  • More efficiency savings related to streamlining processes
  • About 20 percent less out of stock
  • Out of stock issues were reduced from six percent to 0.5 percent

You could feasibly make sure you’re always stocked up on No. 2 pencils, for instance. But there’s so much more than that. Here are five brands already on the cutting edge of machine learning AI that you can start to follow right now.

How Will My Store Change?

There are a lot of ways that AI could impact something as not-connected as your floor space. In five to ten years, according to some experts, customer service experts and cashiers will be a relic of the past. Instead consumers will arrive with a smart-phone assistant that guides them through the aisles and shelves to find with precision the item they want. Or, they might just pull up to the front door in their driverless vehicle and grab a premade package. Who knows? Technology is changing quickly, but that doesn’t mean your space is irrelevant.

The folks over at Sourcing Journal say you’ve just got to look at your space a little bit differently, and think of it as a meeting place and a showroom.  

And the ultimate try-before-you-buy experience is offered at Pirch, a home store with several showrooms throughout the U.S., that hosts cooking classes so consumers can try out its stoves or offers after-hours appointments for people to demo its showerheads—yes, by taking a shower in the store—or bring in their dirty laundry to test-drive its washers and dryers.

“The future of the store is increasingly going to be about putting on active experiences to showcase products in theatrical ways,” Hall said.

What About My Employees?

Yes, machines and AI are already having a big impact on the retail workforce, but retailers will still need employees, just with different skills.

Cashier’s may no longer be necessary in an age of robotics, but content curators, entertainers and social media mavens will become a necessary component of a healthy team roster for any store. The trick is getting ready for the change.

Artificial intelligence is coming, and it’ll make life easier if you take care and implement it with human intuition.