With Labor in Short Supply, Automation Can Improve the Customer Experience

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The retail industry suffered one of the biggest hits from the Great Resignation, losing 721,000 workers in August 2021 alone. And the industry still hasn’t recovered — even though sales are rebounding following a record season in 2021

As shoppers return to physical stores, ongoing labor challenges are forcing retailers to cut down store hours and temporarily close locations. As these challenges persist — and to prepare for additional factors that may impact labor — retailers can turn to technology. What’s more, through automation, retailers can improve efficiency while still creating a positive customer experience.

Automating checkout helps associates improve customer service

Providing consumers with multiple checkout options in the store can improve the overall customer experience. With mobile, self-checkout, or “just walk out” solutions, shoppers can easily grab the items they need without having to wait in line or interact with a cashier. According to Visa, 41% of consumers plan to use digital payments exclusively within the next two years or are already cashless. Automated checkout technology can meet this shifting shopper demand. 

As an added benefit, automating checkout also allows in-store employees to assist shoppers beyond the cash register. Consider this: With the right technology in place, a checkout lane can exist anywhere in an omnichannel environment. Furthermore, employees can use mobile devices to help customers at any location in the store, whether in the aisle or the dressing room.

In-store shopping also encourages one-on-one interactions and increased customer service levels. Experiential retail and clienteling is a popular way for brands to create memorable engagement in physical stores. By providing exceptional service, brands can build long-term relationships and loyalty. For example, an associate can assist a shopper in the dressing room by pulling extra sizes and styles of clothes. When labor is limited, resources and time can be allocated to where it matters most using automated checkout processes. 

Dynamic pricing eliminates manual guesswork

Traditionally, the pricing process has relied on rules-based algorithms that require significant manual oversight. This requires associates to go through the store with a pricing gun or to change shelf labels. It also demands time and effort at a corporate level to run analysis of prices — an evaluation that often leads to errors. 

But setting competitive prices is a critical factor when establishing profitability, especially for grocery and hard good retailers. With AI-driven dynamic pricing, retailers can increase efficiency with automation. An AI solution can analyze store and transactional data, company goals, competitor prices, seasonal trends, regional factors like weather, and more to optimize prices. 

As an added benefit, prices are updated beyond the store and applied to online channels. This process ensures that all shoppers receive the best deal, which ultimately increases loyalty. 

Improved order fulfillment ensures inventory availability 

In today’s retail climate, having multiple fulfillment options like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup is vital. In fact, 61% of retailers identify these services as critical to their omnichannel brand strategy.

Order fulfillment is important for all retail verticals, but grocers in particular have seen dark stores become a cost-effective way to improve inventory management. However, to properly make strategic inventory choices by location, grocers must have access to accurate inventory data in real time. Otherwise, shoppers who place orders online may face out-of-stock items and an increase in order substitutions.

To meet this challenge, robust point-of-sale and promotion redemption data can be used to help grocers understand order quantities. Then, omnichannel technology can bridge the gap across headquarters and store-level processes. By recording all inventory changes in real time, the system can generate recommendations for automatic scheduling without any delay.

Once streamlined and automated, employees can effectively and efficiently handle merchandise needs and better serve customers. For example, if labor is limited and a region is dealing with hurricane prep, traditionally, the priority becomes ensuring water bottles and bread are in stock. Instead, employees can work to fulfill orders and get shoppers what they need — whether consumers are pulling items from the shelf or waiting to have it delivered to their car.

Automation allows retailers to better allocate labor

One thing is for certain: the future is unpredictable. And unfortunately, retailers can only prepare and automate so much of their business. However, the more efficiency retailers build into their processes, the better. This approach will be particularly helpful during peak times or when conditions unexpectedly change and labor is in short supply. 

As shopper demand changes, face-to-face customer service will always remain important. With automation, retailers can ensure that their labor resources are not only accounted and allocated for servicing shoppers in stores, but that it’s also a priority. 

Michael Jaszczyk is the CEO of GK Americas.