Retailers can stand on same ground with e-commerce through automation. Source: Shutterstock.

Retailers can stand on same ground with e-commerce through automation. Source: Shutterstock.

Automation helps retailers gain a competitive advantage over digital giants

IN RETAIL, the bar has never been set higher when it comes to consumer expectations than it is today.

The exploding growth of various e-commerce platforms is a testimony to the impact of digital on retail. With one click, consumers can now search for a product, read a review, and place an order within minutes.

To fight back, traditional retailers are investing heavily in digitizing and automating their physical stores.

Walmart, for example, recently announced plans to leverage its’ supercenters to provide edge computing and 5G services. The retail giant also deployed robots for tasks such as restocking shelves and cleaning.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of retailers do not see automation as a strategic imperative.

If leveraged well, automation can enhance a customer’s experience in ways that e-commerce platforms can’t.

It can be used to meet consumer needs in a physical store setting, such as getting in and out of a store quickly, or experiencing new products in-store. In fact, automation is a must for retailers to ensure that they stay relevant in an increasingly digital landscape.

Consumers are already receptive to in-store automation. Gen Z’s and millennials believe that automation can solve the major pain points of in-store shopping experience including long payment and checkout lines.

The consumer mindset has also evolved over the years and is now focused on purpose. In other words, purchases made are purpose-driven.

Today’s consumers view automation as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way to shop. They will preferentially choose to shop at stores that use automation to drive sustainability.

Several forward-looking retailers acknowledge this, and are already in the midst of addressing these issues.

For example, the Dutch food retailer, Ahold Delhaize, uses electronic shelf labels to showcase product information and allow automatic price changes.

UK-based startup Wasteless is also using automation to change food prices based on expiration dates, thereby enhancing sustainability and reducing food waste.

Most retailers are still in their infancy when it comes to automation. With the constantly disrupted landscape of the industry, retailers cannot afford to drag their feet any longer.

To accelerate automation, retailers must start off by ensuring it is a strategic imperative. The organization as a whole must understand the need to transform, and must be equipped with tools that will ease their transition into automation.

Also, retailers should view automation initiatives from the lens of a consumer. They must first understand the unique needs of their customer base, before deploying an appropriate operating model.

Finally, retailers must ensure that the automation system in place is flexible enough to be scaled.

The retail industry is already saturated and highly competitive.

Retailers must therefore constantly be on their toes, keeping up with technology, and leveraging it to ensure that they stay relevant.