Automation In 2019-To help retailers and brands plan for 2019, I’m interviewing my Forrester peers to discover how their 2019 predictions will affect retail for our series: “Applying 2019 Predictions To Retail.”
Recently, I interviewed J. P. Gownder, VP and principal analyst on Forrester’s CIO team and an expert in automation technologies. Here’s what J. P. thinks retailers and brands should expect and focus on regarding automation in 2019.
Fiona: How do you predict automation will impact jobs in the retail industry?
J. P.: There will be job losses, but there is also a lot of transformation possible to improve both existing and new retail jobs. For example, if you include quick serve restaurants (QSRs) in the mix, McDonald’s has been the forefront of using kiosks for ordering. This technology gives restaurant workers more opportunity to focus on customers but also lowers the size of the workforce, at least in the long run. Another example is Walmart using Bossa Nova robots to automate inventory monitoring. During phase one — the experimental stage, where we are today — those retail store associates are able to focus on doing other tasks: helping customers, cleaning, or adding checkout cashiers. In the longer term, as these systems become more operationally precise, we could imagine jobs going away; think of Amazon Go, which still has human employees to do things like stocking shelves but fewer and in different roles than traditional retailers.
Fiona: What business goals are retailers supporting with automation?
J. P.: Overcoming the physical/digital divide is an overarching trend we are seeing in every vertical (see our report, “The Revenge Of The Atoms”). Retailers in general are pivoting to customer-obsessed, omnichannel experiences. This means being able to order online and pick up in-store or returning an item bought online to a store, so a lot of back-end automation — software, mostly — helps these processes. But this also changes the dynamics of inventory: There are carrying costs to stores for holding on to lots of products. Retailers are moving toward a world of short-term replenishment; instead of replenishing in bulk weekly, some are moving to a faster, even daily approach. All of these changes require automation and intelligence. (Author’s note: Please also see George Lawrie’s research on “The Three Rs Of Retail Robotics.”)
Fiona: How do you think retailers and brands need to adjust hiring priorities with automation in mind?
J. P.: Initially, the impact will be on the corporate side, where employees will need new skill sets and knowledge on how to work with these new technologies (see our robotics quotient assessment research for more). Retailers will need to hire people (e.g., omnichannel experts) who can trace theentire business process and execute the move from brick-and-mortar to something more holistic of digital and in-store. Managing multiple chains of automation — from pick-and-pack robots in warehouses to inventory monitoring and management to software bots that help execute supply chain management — will require new skills from employees.