Retail’s Headaches Can Be Alleviated With Automation
In 2022, 69 percent of Americans shopped online, and 25 percent of Americans shop online at least once per month. It's estimated that digital spending grew by about 6.1 percent in 2022 compared to the year prior. The most recent data shows consumer spending rising this past holiday season as well, a positive sign for the economy.
Retailers are continually evolving as they digitize, yet there's opportunity to transform even faster. Business automation software can improve and streamline repetitive processes that take a lot of time, such as marketing, inventory management, purchasing and return processing, while providing valuable time for employees to create better customer experiences.
Making Connections and Increasing Transactions
Many online orders that retailers receive are inevitably followed by processes like invoice drafting, return processing, and customer service requests. When these processes have manual steps, operations can be slowed and the chances of errors increase. That’s where software robots come in.
According to data from UiPath, 60 percent of critical consumer and retail activities can be automated and automation can enable potential revenue to grow by 10 percent. Deploying software robots can help transform processes for more transactions and squeeze out inefficiencies that are the barriers to seamless, near real-time operations. Because software robots can work with hundreds of thousands of data points at once, business automation can process data requests in a fraction of the time it would take an employee to execute, with increased accuracy as well.
Retailers can additionally deliver a consistent consumer experience through automation by integrating customer-facing systems, recommending best actions, and empowering customers to help themselves with self-service options. For example, an online webstore can deploy sophisticated chatbots to help customers answer any questions while they shop and help point them to the right answer. Not only do chatbots help save time, but they also simplify back-office processes for smoother, faster customer engagement. With millions of shoppers making purchases online every day, retailers can expect their contact centers to be bombarded with requests — leading to long wait times if they don’t have a system in place for addressing routine customer needs when an employee isn’t immediately available. Fortunately for retailers, automated chatbots today can fulfill a wide range of customer requests.
Improving Supply Chain Management
Returns can be a supply chain nightmare for retailers. Returns jumped nearly 6 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), making the average e-commerce return rate rest at around 20 percent to 30 percent. On top of losing revenue, returns often mean adding workers, increasing warehouse space, and establishing separate departments to manage all the back-end logistics.
With the increasing volume of returns paired with online orders, returns are requiring a more involved quality-control process, and ultimately more time. How companies choose to manage their returns will influence the overall management of many facets of the business that impact profitability, including inventory and warehousing storage.
The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics put annual warehouse turnover rates at 43 percent. Losing that large of a percentage of a 100-associate warehouse team would cost, at the very least, $365,500 every year in order to hire and train a new employee.
At a higher level, process automation can be used to predict outcomes and support complex decision making within the supply chain and help employees with more than just robotic tasks. Automation can be used to assist with product selection, payment processing, and order placement confirmation — working in the back end of every retailer to ensure the correct product gets to its rightful place. Software robots can help process orders and take care of certain inventory tasks before a product even leaves the shelf. With a software robot collaborating with them, workers can ensure they deliver a quality customer experience.
Enhancing the Employee Experience
According to the NRF, the retail industry directly employs 32 million Americans, making it the largest private sector-employer in the economy. Many large retailers hire seasonal employees, with the biggest companies hiring over 100,000 employees to help during the busiest shopping seasons like holidays and back-to-school. However, last year the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a record number of retail workers quit their jobs, some citing issues like burnout for leaving their positions.
However, by having software robots augmenting the responsibilities of employees, retail employees’ workloads quickly become much more manageable. As a result, employees are less likely to feel burnt out from the volume and repetitive nature of their work and can instead focus more on customer requests that benefit from human interaction, like making personalized recommendations or talking through individual account details.
Having increased employee availability naturally benefits consumers as well, since they can talk to real people when they need to and then otherwise have their inquiries quickly resolved through automated processes, like with the help of a chatbot. With a robot assistant, everyone from demand planners to store associates can do more, faster — whether that's engaging with customers or optimizing inventory planning in the back end.
Streamlining the shopping experience is vital to quick, efficient retail operations. Automation enables retailers to deliver high-quality service and enhanced customer experiences that drive sales and loyalty, as well as alleviating burdensome tasks from employees to prevent burnout.
Bhavesh Joshi is the Americas manufacturing and industry leader at UiPath, a company that offers an end-to-end platform for automation, combining the leading Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution with a full suite of capabilities.
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I am a strategist who believes in Industry 4.0 and the positive impact it has on all of us. Having spent many years on the plant floors and distribution centers, I believe digital automations help us to realize the Lean Thinking.
I am honored to be leading UiPath's Americas Manufacturing business where our amazing talented teams collaborate with partners and clients in delivering enterprise intelligent automation and improvement solutions.
Whether it is a private start-up or a Fortune 50 public company, I have been a go-to leader where transformation, speed or strategy ideation and execution are required. I strive to be a servant leader and have motivated global talent in achieving breakthrough growth, profitability, and cash flow. I am passionate about creation of new revenue streams, organizational capabilities, and tech-enabled solutions.
I am very resourceful, and adapt to different cultures naturally. I began my career in machine shop, and have been delivering on board of director mandates of multi-billion companies as I continue the journey.