While retail workers remain the backbone of the industry many companies are investing in the early stages of automation as a means of keeping up with the rapid changes occurring across the retail space.
Research firm Gartner has found 77 per cent of retailers are planning to deploy AI systems by 2021, with deployment of predictive robotic warehouse pickers to work alongside human workers being the leading use case.
“This means the robot will have to mesh with the human team – essentially meaning that both sides will need to learn how to collaborate to operate effectively together,” Gartner senior research director Kelsie Marian said.
AI systems developed will need to be able to choose the right candidate for the job, either human or machine, in order to ensure it is done as efficiently and effectively as possible.
A major part of this effort moving forward will be the creation of ‘robot resource organisations’ which will be responsible for procuring, maintaining, training, taxing, decommissioning and properly disposing of robotic workers, as well as creating the framework to allow human and robot to collaborate.
The impact automation can have on a retailers supply chain can be substantial, but concerns remain around the human impact.
In early 2019 Hays released research which found that half of Australian workers had said their jobs were impacted by automation already, with 18 per cent claiming the impact was “significant”.
“While we’re far from the demise of the human worker, technology is increasing how fast our knowledge and skills are becoming outdated,” Deligiannis said.
Research from McKinsey suggested that while 5 per cent of occupations will become fully automated in the future, about 60 per cent could see at least a third of their job tasks automated.
One of Australia’s largest retailers Coles last year committed to integrate automation into a number of new distribution centres across Queensland and New South Wales. The transition is expected to result in the loss of hundreds of jobs, and workers took to the company’s AGM to voice their concerns.
At the time Coles chief executive Steven Cain specified the technological changes were being made in an effort to improve its customer experience and keep costs down.
Cain also stated the business remained committed to the communities it operates within, though workers from the affected Goulborn and Forest Lake sites fear the impact such job losses will have on these regions.
According to Garnter, it falls to retail leaders to assuage such fears, manage employee skills and concerns and shift the mindset around the development of robotic resources.
“Retail CIOs must provide ongoing maintenance and monitoring performance for effectiveness,” said Marian.
“If not, the team may be counterproductive and lead to a bad customer experience.”