How Retail Automation Makes Your Customers and Employees Happier

This is a two part series that will outline four key strategies to effectively leveraging automation in a retail workflow to not only drive customer satisfaction, but also employee morale. Make sure you sign up for our blog to read Part Two of this series and more great content from SoftBank Robotics.

As technology becomes more advanced, chatbots, artificial intelligence, and robotics have been disrupting almost every industry across the globe. From assembling cars in a Tesla factory, assisting customers virtually via phone or online chat, or even diagnosing cancer and nursing patients, technologies like these are increasingly making automation a more powerful, viable option for business.But the adoption of automation hasn’t been without challenges. Because the quality of the customer experience can vary significantly, sometimes creating frustrated customers and frustrated employees. In addition, a recent Deloitte study found that, since 2001, automation displaced 800,000 jobs while creating 3.5 million new ones. And while that’s a net gain of 2.7 million jobs, that level of change is never easy to manage.

It’s clear that automation will play a major role in the future of every business, and it’s also clear that these new technologies are still maturing in their development. Here are four strategies to deploy automation into your retail workflow in a way that will not only make your customers happy, but delight your employees, as well.

1. Automate Lower Value Tasks

A recent retail sales survey delivered some fascinating insightsabout how sales associates spend their time. In an average day, an employee on the floor spends less than half of their time with customers, and only 20% of their time actually selling. Between managing inventory (13%), and refilling products (16%), a retail sales associate spends more time with the products in your store than trying to sell those products to customers.

Also odd, the average retail employee spent 26% of their time answering questions from shoppers. You can imagine the typical questions a customer asks:

- “Is this on sale?”
- “Where can I find this item?”
- “How much does this cost?”
- “What’s the return policy for this?”
- “Where’s the restroom?”

That’s 26% of an employee’s time answering the same repetitive questions over and over. Combined with the 29% of their time dealing with inventory, that’s 55% of their workday that could be optimized in a way that empowers your sales associates to do what they do best: engage in high-touch, high-value interactions that drive sales.

There are retailers actively taking steps to improve this ratio. For example, grocers are piloting robotic automation to stock shelves, which not only nets efficiency gains in inventory management, but frees up store employees to tend to customer needs. Considering that 66% millennials consider store associates to “extremely important,” the benefits of enabling employees to have more facetime with customers are felt both in the back office and at checkout.

In shopping malls, robots are also being used to automate other repetitive, lower-value tasks with visitors. Providing basic directions to stores and restaurants, answering questions like “where’s the bathroom?” and greeting every customer that enters the location are all tasks that, when automated, allow retail employees to focus on high-touch, high value, one-on-one interactions with customers that are so critical to sales. That 93% of customers are more likely to buy, and 85% of customers buy more when engaging with a knowledgeable sales associate, every moment with spent with a customer incredibly valuable — for the brand, experience, and bottom line.

In a day and age where customers demand an increased level of personalization, automating more impersonal interactions is a great way to empower employees to offer a human touch the customer journey, and enable them to focus on the most important part of their job: the customer. The best part is: research is showing that when employees have the ability to be creative and focus on meaningful work, their morale and performance improves dramatically — automating low-value tasks is a clear win-win for retail.

2. Automate Customer Entertainment

“Shoppertainment” is proving to be an effective method of capturing foot traffic in highly competitive retail environments, and also a great way of engaging them during moments in their journey when they are waiting (e.g. in a checkout line, queuing for a dressing room, or for customer service).

Robotic automation of entertainment can provide huge value to a store, delivering an experience that is both fun, engaging, and interactive for shoppers. Entertainment displays that are automated with robotics have key advantages over static displays or manned product demos:

- First, they require minimal human supervision;
- Second, they are easy to program and change, keeping the experience unique;
- Third, because the entertainment robots provide is interactive, they can capture customer data, from consumer sentiment and feedback, to email addresses and phone numbers

Automating shopper entertainment ultimately increases foot traffic, engages store visitors, and captures valuable data, all while empowering your employees to focus on their customers.

To Be Continued…

In Part Two of this series, we’ll discuss how to automate promotions effectively, and how to increase opportunistic sales by automating repetitive sales tasks. Technologically innovative retailers of all business sizes are reaping significant rewards from well-executed sales and promotion automation strategies. Revenue is up, turnover is down, and customers are happy — and we’ll outline how this is being accomplished in our next post.

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