Supply chain automation is long overdue in the retail world. And yet, Australian and New Zealand retail businesses still see automated logistics technologies as something of death knell, despite the potential benefits. Amazon has successfully trialed drone technology for faster and easier deliveries, but otherwise few other retail businesses have embraced automation on a wide scale.
We want to set the record straight. There are many benefits of retail automation, scaleable to the needs and infrastructure of your enterprise. Overcoming the uncertainty around automation requires people to change how people think about it – retail technologies are ultimately adaptable to the needs of your enterprise and not a way of changing it beyond recognition.
What are the reservations around retail automation?
Australian and New Zealand businesses are often seen as technologically conservative when compared to regional markets in Asia. This is primarily due to fears over how automation will affect jobs. While the limited number of Australasian businesses with automated retail systems may point to this, it doesn't necessarily extend to the attitude of retail logistics workers. Recruitment group Randstad claims almost 85 per cent of Australians are not concerned that automation will affect future employment.
However, there are growing signs of retail businesses in the region stepping away from this risk-averse mindset around technological advancement. Nearly 20 per cent of Asia-Pacific organisations now have scaled automation technologies across multiple parts of the business, according to McKinsey's Automation Imperative report.
This increased deployment of automation solutions hasn't disrupted Australian and New Zealand retail enterprises to the scale expected either. Around one in three workers claim automation hasn't significantly affected their role, but has instead just increased the frequency of non-routine duties, according to a Hays Recruitment poll.
That is the main point to consider about retail automation – streamlining time-consuming manual labour responsibilities with hardware and software technology reduces costs, improves customer delivery and fosters workforce upskilling.
What are the benefits of automation solutions?
1) Streamlining logistics processes
Logistics processes in national retail chains can span numerous sites, dozens of enterprise partners and hundreds of staff. This translates into a massive time and financial investment from operators to both run and track the movements of this system. Automation technologies, either through hardware or data-driven software, are simply more efficient in performing routine manual tasks than human operators. Reducing the time taken to pick, pack and transport stock, while also streamlining the floor space required, inevitably leads to value cost and time savings, now and into the future.
2) Improving service consistency
Human error is inevitable, and even minor mistakes can lead to customer service issues. Automation reduces the risk of incorrect orders, delivery inefficiency and inaccurate picking and packing. Voice recognition technology, for example, allows stock takers to communicate with an intuitive digital stock list of items verbally, reducing the amount of searching required to find the right item. Data-driven insight into goods location and availability translates to higher quality customer service.
A McKinsey Global Institute survey of more than 3,000 business leaders highlights a new emphasis on continuous learning for workers and a shift to creative and collaborative tasks. This is demonstrated by an average 16 per cent increase in the estimated work hours spent on higher cognitive responsibilities and leadership processes.
3) Aiding worker upskilling
Retail automation technologies presents the opportunity for businesses to retrain human workers in routine tasks to perform more intuitive, people-facing duties. Leadership responsibilities, communicating with suppliers and customer services all require creativity and empathy, which cannot be automated.
Estimates on enterprise task automation to 2030 indicate jobs requiring social intelligence skills are less than half as vulnerable as repetitive manual labour (PricewaterhouseCoopers). No matter the scale of automation in your retail business or the hardware and software deployed, you still need skilled human workers to manage key processes and systems.
Why your business should consider hardware and software automation
Automation doesn't just mean robots. While robotics are a valuable solution, logistics operators can benefit from a range of automation hardware and software. Different retail businesses have different needs – core to Cohesio's offering is analysing your infrastructure and determining the technological deployment required. Some enterprises may only suit minor changes, while others could scale a fully automated processing system. The benefits of retail automation are only evident if you understand the solutions available.
Robotics, drones and RFID – why automation hardware?
Robots, drones and other hardware offer retail operators a singular way of streamlining key logistics processes and improving picking and packing accuracy. Most automation solutions in Australia and New Zealand currently are fixed infrastructure like warehouse management systems, requiring significant investment to customise and integrate. Mobile hardware is often a more effective alternative.
Cohesio offers supply chain technologies to suit different logistics applications. Our partnership with robotics business Geek+ has led us to develop an automated guidance robot customised to meet Australian OH&S and workflow requirements. This robotics solution is coupled with a localised support framework to help logistics businesses get the best out of the technology.
We also offer sophisticated supply chain solutions such as Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs), Voice technology and Augmented Vision systems. Our hardware suits any retail business and can be adapted to suit existing infrastructure.
Cohesio's ignito – why use retail software solutions?
Arduous and inefficient retail store working processes can reduce overall productivity. Manual stocktaking, ordering and delivery are fast becoming a way of the past due to the risks associated with mistakes that affect the whole supply chain. A single delay or miscalculation can mean retail stores have less stock than required and no insight into how or why. Dedicated retail automation software helps drive better insight into the whole chain.
Cohesio's experience in optimising warehouse workflows helped us develop a solution that streamlines productivity at retail store level as well. Our ignito cloud system can be deployed in a few days with minimal technical support as a stand-alone or integrated solution. Link ignito with your store smart devices and access data on stock levels and availability at any time, reducing the risk of mistakes and improving customer service at point-of-sale.
Keen to hear more about retail automation? The Cohesio team can break it all down over a drink – come see us today to get the conversation going!