Store of Tomorrow Will Require Greater Automation and More Predictive Workforce, Inventory Management Tools
The demise of the physical, in-store experience has been greatly exaggerated. Consumers like to go shopping — they really do. However, to match their expectations, retailers will need to deploy emerging technologies to engage with consumers in a more intuitive and automated manner. At the same time, they must commit to investments in innovation that will enable them to more effectively forecast future supply chain/inventory and workforce requirements, which would help these businesses address their biggest frustration: understaffing.
At least this is a vision of the “store of tomorrow,” as conveyed by the results of a recent survey REPL Group conducted to get a sense of what both consumers and employees seek — and expect — from retailers. One thousand U.S. consumers and 500 retail workers took part in the survey, which focused on how the industry landscape will evolve as it continues to leverage advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual assistants/virtual reality (VR), predictive analytics and automation. Here are highlights of the findings:
- As indicated, people still like to go out and shop, as 55 percent of respondents say they engage in the in-store experience and enjoy it. Just 27 percent said they’ve opted to shop online because retail closures are limiting their choices. A mere 8 percent feel that in-store shopping doesn’t offer a positive experience.
- That said, there are lingering frustrations among consumers, including poor stock availability (as cited by 48 percent) and poor customer service (34 percent). More than three in five respondents said they’ve received a voucher or special offer for a product that wasn't available when they visited the store to purchase it. They also run into problems online, with nearly one-half reporting that they've received a product which didn't appear as it did on the retailer's website, and have purchased an item which was delivered late.
- A notable segment of customers would welcome industry-introduced remedies to some of these issues, including the availability of stock information via mobile apps (as cited by 34 percent); shorter delivery time scales and more specific time slots for “click and collect” (29 percent); and the ability for staffers to have a customer’s buying profile at their fingertips along with in-depth product knowledge (28 percent).
- In addition, consumers anticipate that technology will play an increasing role in their in-store experiences. By 2025, 66 percent of consumers expect that there will be fewer staff members in stores, as the greater presence of automated processes, virtual assistants and VR take hold.
- From the employee perspective, there's considerable support for investment in solutions with smarter, more predictive oversight capabilities. Over 80 percent of retail workers say that more efficient management of stores and better forecasting would improve their job satisfaction levels.
There's no “easy button” for retailers to press to respond to understaffing issues. However, ongoing technology innovations will position them to more effectively forecast what shoppers want and when they plan to buy it, so they make the right decisions about their inventory supply. With this and other enhancements in predictive and automated tools, their employees will spend less time on menial tasks, freeing them up to focus on creating engaging and satisfying purchasing experiences. As a result, consumers will continue to go to stores — and like it.
Mike Callender is executive chairman of REPL Group, a world-leading consulting and technology group specializing in workforce management, supply chain, point-of-sale and in-store digital solutions.