Follow us:

Retail News RSS feed Twitter Facebook Pinterest youTube

Robots are coming to a retailer near you

Friday January 29th 2016

Commentary by Liz Parry, Strategic Account Director at Teleperformance UK.

New research by the consulting experts Deloitte suggests that an enormous chunk of the UK workforce will be automated by 2036 – including over 2 million retail workers.

Retail isn’t a sector where the threat of automation has seemed very likely. Robots have taken off in manufacturing and software agents are now becoming more common in areas such as customer service – handling common enquiries rather than requiring a human – but surely shop assistants are safe?

The researchers at Deloitte are not so sure. Angus Knowles-Cutler, vice chairman of Deloitte, explained to the Mail Online website that the march of the machines was already well underway and nothing could be done to stop it: “You either adopt the technology or your economy suffers, it’s hard to resist these changes.”

he research suggests that 1.1 million food services and accommodation workers are at risk. In the USA, fast-food chains like Eatsa are already experimenting with systems that ask customers to place orders on a tablet and then to collect their food from a hatch. However, the Deloitte research is not all bad news. They suggest that technology has destroyed 800,000 UK jobs in the past 15 years, but technology has also created 3.5 million jobs during the same period of time – and usually the new jobs are better paid than the old ones.

The World Economic Forum meeting at Davos last week focused extensively on how robots will change the world around us. The initial impression for workers is often negative. Jobs will be destroyed and society changed beyond recognition. As the Deloitte data suggests, we are also seeing new jobs created all the time, so the headlines can be misleading.

In any case, I’m not sure that smart retailers would want to replace all customer service functions with robots. For repetitive or mundane tasks it makes sense, but imagine visiting a clothes store and asking for advice on colours? It doesn’t quite work with a machine does it? I imagine that when brands are focused on creating a great experience they will figure out where robots can help and where human interactions make the experience better for customers.

What do you think about the robot revolution? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn profile.