Retailers Move to Automate 70% of Rote Store Tasks by 2025
Generative AI is the talk of the retail town as marketers look to use it to connect with customers, but many retailers are gearing up to use AI for another purpose: automating routine in-store tasks.
The plurality of retailers said they will use the cost and time savings from automation to re-deploy associates to “customer-facing high-value tasks” (18%) or “support business operations” (26%).
“Improving operational efficiency is crucial for retailers in today’s competitive landscape,” said Gaurav Pant, chief insights officer at Incisiv. “Automation is imminent, and retailers must embrace it to streamline processes and reduce costs.”
Why was Verizon a part of the study? The growth of cloud applications and in-store devices required to power the stores of the future will come with a need for better networks and infrastructure.
“As the number of mobile and connected devices continues to accelerate in stores, the need for faster speeds, less network downtime, and a better ability to manage peak traffic will become more critical,” said Scott Lawrence, Senior Vice President Global Solutions, Verizon Business. “The key is to build a network architecture that will give in-store applications access to the right bandwidth at the right time and enable them to scale up or down as needed.”
The big picture behind AI and retail
The challenge for retailers is how to use AI to cut costs while continuing to enhance the customer experience. For example, many retailers are implementing chatbots to provide digital customer service, and the emergence of generative AI technologies like ChatGPT is only boosting the hype.
But automating customer service isn’t an obvious slam dunk. Forty-four percent of consumers get frustrated that they cannot choose between a human and a bot at the start of a service experience, according to research by Zendesk. And 46 percent of consumers say it is most frustrating when they have to start a conversation all over again with a human agent.
While automation will no doubt continue to play a larger role in retail, it’s also reasonable to expect a backlash. Retailers will have to experiment to find where the line lies between automating rote tasks and leaving more complex ones to humans or a combination of humans and technology.
We can also expect companies to emerge with an ethos focused on using technology to enhance — rather than replace — the human dimensions of the retail customer experience. For example, Humankind is an SMS marketing platform that bills itself as offering “more humans, fewer bots.” The company allows retailers to connect customers with “real human experts” to enhance the shopping experience. The value of this is obvious to anyone who’s benefited from a knowledgeable in-store associate — and that value will grow more pronounced as customers get used to automation and the human touch that defines a great retail brand ceases to be the norm.
Of course, neither humans nor bots will completely take over retail in the coming years. Deft retailers will combine the two. As retailers seek to automate 70% of “routine” store tasks by 2025, the winners will be those who strike the optimal balance between automation and human ingenuity.