Retail Resilience: Managers tackle operational challenges amidst staffing struggles, customer demands, and the AI evolution
In the wake of the Retail Trust Respect campaign launched this week and the recent AI summit, news of a recent survey of U.K. managers in retail, hospitality, and foodservice conducted by Axonify, demonstratesy interesting insights into the state of operations.
The top operational challenges identified by managers include staffing, updating training materials, integrating technology, and addressing volatile issues like theft and violence.
Concerns about these challenges impacting the customer experience were prominent, with customers expressing a need for more knowledgeable staff, quicker checkout options, and secure environments.
Despite growing operational difficulties, managers remain optimistic about the long-term outlook for their businesses. They acknowledge that challenges have worsened over the past year, especially regarding safety and security, but anticipate improvements in the future. Senior leadership plays a crucial role in empowering managers to address these challenges, with effective communication and support for training, learning, and career advancement.
Managers are actively taking steps to enhance the brand and customer experience by providing more training, implementing dress codes, increasing customer interactions, and adopting new platforms for feedback. Automation and emerging technologies, such as AI, are embraced by a majority of managers, although concerns about job displacement, compliance, bias, and role confusion exist. Barriers to adopting AI include a lack of understanding, unknown return on investment, resource constraints, and privacy concerns.
Cross-sector AI is becoming increasingly prevalent, and the retail industry is no exception. Findings from the report indicate that:
- 61% of managers working in retail feel comfortable introducing new technologies like AI into operations
- In 2024, managers plan to automate certain functions:
- 57% will use it for ordering/ product return/ check out processes and 55% will use it for inventory
- 54% will use it for customer loyalty functions and 56% will use it for scheduling
- Half of managers also plan to utilise it for employee training and organisational learning (49%)
- Although there is an overall positive sentiment towards AI, there are still concerns with 62% of managers worrying that it could takeaway jobs, and more than half highlighting possible issues with software bias (54%), and 56% concerned about privacy
- Despite this overall positive industry sentiment, 42% of retail companies do not plan to automate any functions/ areas in store next year, citing barriers such as a lack of understanding (63%), a lack of motivation to learn a new technology, as well as limited time and resources (60%) and an unknown return on investment (57%)
It would seem from the Axonify findings that while managers are proactive in driving operational consistency and efficiency, addressing barriers like training needs and clear communication is essential for the successful adoption of emerging technologies in the retail and hospitality sectors.
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