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Study: Automation puts millions of U.S. retail jobs at risk

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Automation may be mission-critical to operational longevity in the retail industry, but it could be creating a significant pool of “stranded workers.”

Six million to 7.5 million retail jobs likely will be automated out of existence in the coming years, leaving a large portion of the retail workforce at risk of becoming “stranded workers.” Retail cashiers are at highest risk for automation technologies, and women hold 73% of these positions.

That’s according to a new report, “Retail Automation: Stranded Workers? Opportunities and Risks for Labor and Automation,” conducted by Cornerstone Capital Group and commissioned by the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute. The report identifies the structural factors catalyzing change in the retail industry.

The report details the technologies retailers are deploying, looks at the drivers of automation, and provides a framework to analyze the automation strategies of 30 large retail companies. In some cases, technology is complementing labor by freeing workers from mundane tasks and facilitating a more personalized customer experience. In others, technology has the potential to automate a significant part of the sales process and render a range of jobs redundant. Taken together, store closures and technology have the potential to dramatically alter the employment landscape in America.

When it comes to adopting in-store technology, most of the surveyed companies are considering solutions such as mobile devices, self-checkout, digital kiosks and proximity beacons. In addition, sensor-based checkouts and smart shelves are a growing technology, as found in Amazon Go stores.

What many people don’t realize is that 36% of retail workers currently receive some form of public assistance, and the average retail worker is 38 years old. Contrary to perceptions, 71% of retail workers are full-time employees.

The study also indicates that Walmart and other large retailers have greater market share in communities with less than 500,000 people. If employment trends correlate to market share location, retail automation by retailers could disproportionately impact these smaller communities.

“The retail landscape is changing rapidly and investors need to understand the social and governance issues impacting valuations for public companies in this sector,” said Erica Karp, Cornerstone founder and CEO. “Retailers are facing a perfect storm: they need to balance demand for wage increases with the negative optics of future job losses. The winners in retail will be companies that provide recruitment, retention and training for workers and innovate with forward-thinking future store strategies.”

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News

Study: Innovation will drive the unified shopping experience

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

E-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail environments continue to merge, and retailers are in the hot seat to optimize the customer experience.

As a result, the need to adopt innovative technologies to engage shoppers has never been stronger. This was according to the “2017 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey” from Boston Retail Partners.

The priority for 55% of retailers is to increase customer loyalty. They are doing so by improving mobile shopping and creating a unified experience across all channels, the study revealed.

“The customer experience in a unified commerce world is much more complex than it is in a pure play e-commerce or brick-and-mortar retail environment. We are seeing retailers map out the entire customer journey to design the optimal customer experience,” said Perry Kramer, VP and practice lead at BRP. “This complexity expands exponentially as the proliferation of social media, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning influence the retail world and more specifically, the customer journey.”

That said, stores must now blend the best of both retail worlds. This includes meshing the sensory experience generally available in the physical world, such as touching and feeling merchandise and personally interacting with a knowledgeable associate — whether simply with an individual or a combination of AI and human characteristics – alongside the unique and personalized shopping experience that is commonplace in the digital world. As the physical and digital worlds merge, they will be forever intertwined as the industry moves into the future, the study said.

To reach this goal however, retailers must adopt the following customer experience capabilities:

Educate. One of the areas of greatest improvement is the offering of social media as a research option for customers to learn more about the brand and products. Overall utilization is up from 73% of retailers utilizing it last year to 92% this year. However, many retailers indicate that their current social media offerings need improvement.

Engage. Most retailers have plans to implement new technologies to identify customers via their smartphones, mobile applications and other emerging technologies. Within three years, 59% of retailers plan to use Wi-Fi and 63% plan to use mobile apps to identify customers in their stores.

Execute. A majority (67%) of retailers are offering a consistent product assortment across channels; however, many retailers are still struggling with manual processes as 43% indicate the processes need improvement.

Enhance. Retailers realize the importance of utilizing customer insights gathered from social media as 89% of retailers are now using social comments as a critical customer satisfaction measurement, up from 59% last year.

Enablers. Enhanced networks are a critical requirement for a unified commerce environment, and 76% of retailers plan to enhance or replace their network within the next three years.

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DEALS

Dollar Tree signs five leases in New Jersey

BY Al Urbanski

Dollar continues to expand its already large footprint in the nation’s most densely populated state.

The value chain has executed five leases at locations in New Jersey, the largest a 12,230-sq.-ft. inline space at Plainfield Plaza, a grocery-anchored center in Plainfield, according to R.J. Brunelli, Dollar Tree’s real estate representative in the state.

Other locations:

Toms River: 10,200-sq.-ft. freestanding space on Route 37

Bayonne: 10,000-sq.-ft.-ft. end-cap unit at the new Bergen Point Retail Center

Marlton: 9,300- sq.-ft. inline space at Plaza 70, located at 85 Route 70 in Marlton

Bellmawr: 9,100-sq.-ft. newly constructed building at 42 North Blackhorse Pike

Chain Store Age “10 Under 40 in Real Estate” honoree Danielle Brunelli-Albrecht brokered the deals.


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