How Automation Helps Retailers Deliver an A+ Back-to-School Shopping Experience
After a year-plus of remote schooling, students and faculty are flocking back to the classroom this fall — and stocking up on supplies for it. Deloitte forecasts that back-to-school spending will reach $32.5 billion this year, up 16 percent from last year and 17 percent from 2019. While this expected influx of business should be a good sign for retailers, ongoing challenges created by the pandemic — e.g., product shortages and overwhelmed customer service centers — might prevent them from capitalizing on the opportunity ahead.
To overcome these obstacles, many retailers are turning to automation to help them make the most of back-to-school demand. By facilitating increased efficiency and visibility, enterprise automation software offers retailers support in meeting consumer demands. Here’s how.
Increased Inventory Visibility
After the pandemic slows in sales, the last thing retailers want is to miss out on revenue because they’re out of stock of top-selling products, or they’ve overinvested in ones that consumers aren’t interested in. Automation helps retailers avoid these missteps by increasing their visibility into inventory levels so that they’re always prepared with consumer favorites.
Retailers can program software robots to monitor and automatically update inventory levels as products move across the shelves, even reordering products when levels are low. These real-time insights not only help retailers stay ahead of product shortages, but the digital trail of how products are selling helps with inventory planning to ensure they’re only stocking up on products that have a demonstrated demand and not wasting spend on ones that don’t. In addition to creating more strategic conversations with manufacturers, these inventory statuses also enable retailers to better manage consumer expectations regarding product availability and restock timeframes.
Enhanced Customer Service
Though positive for brands, booms in business can overwhelm workers who are responsible for executing day-to-day operations. And as e-commerce retains its stronghold on consumers’ shopping behaviors, retailers can expect their call centers to be fielding more inbounds than in pre-pandemic times. Unfortunately, with limited agent bandwidth, retailers risk delivering a customer experience that doesn’t pass the test.
By handling repetitive back-office tasks like invoice and returns processing, automation frees up workers to provide more attentive customer service. When processed by employees, these forms can represent hours of work, with the tediousness of the activity also increasing the odds that employees will make errors — thereby creating even more work for themselves. Software robots can be deployed to intake consumers’ order data and organize it into pre-determined locations, processing the forms in a fraction of the time it would take an employee and with increased accuracy. In turn, employees will have increased bandwidth to engage with consumers and ensure their needs are met.
Additionally, automation can improve the quality of those interactions. When a retailer’s call center receives a consumer inbound, robots can source that individual’s order history so that the agent can jump into finding a resolution, instead of wasting time getting up to speed. Using that context, the agent is also positioned to recommend more personalized offerings, including upselling opportunities.
As students and faculty gear up for the new school year, retailers need to brace themselves for a busy shopping season. By automating core manual tasks, retail employees can work more economically, with increased speed and efficiency — winning themselves more time to help consumers prepare for their returns to the classroom.
Joel Cherkis is vice president, global industries at UiPath, a robotic process automation (RPA) company.
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Joel Cherkis is the Vice President of the Global Industry practice at UiPath. Harnessing an extensive background in platform delivery and technology sales, he is focused on delivering robotic process automation (RPA) products that directly support the unique challenges and goals of industry-focused customers and partners. Cherkis works in close collaboration with customers and partners around the world to ensure that UiPath's software and services deliver the level of industry depth, insight, and accountability expected in the 21st century.