Sink or swim: Retail automation is here to stay

Jan Prickett TellermateIt’s no secret that the retail landscape is shifting. This continual evolution toward retail automation has been caused by many factors, including technology and a mobile-minded consumer. And those who haven’t embraced this change brought on by retail technology are in trouble.

Many retailers, including well-known giants Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sports Authority and American Eagle, have collectively closed hundreds of stores amid sales declines and resulting unprofitability. Why? A rise in internet-based sales, declining retail traffic, and the inability to adapt to new trends and changing tastes are just a few reasons some brick-and-mortar locations continue to shut down.

Others are dabbling with the idea of cashier-free locations. Earlier this year, Starbucks opened a dedicated mobile order and pay store in its Seattle headquarters building to test how to better serve convenience-minded customers and help ease roadblocks at its café drink delivery stations. The world’s leading retailer of speciality coffee, which operates in 50 countries, had been suffering peak-hour gridlock caused by a large amount of mobile drink orders.

Cashier-free may lead to theft and customer dissatisfaction

But, fear not because the future of retail doesn’t have to be bleak. Cashier-free locations are not the norm and in fact, some customers dislike using self-checkout lines, particularly if they have a cart full of groceries and goods. Have you ever shopped at night only to find self-checkout the only option available? It can be a frustrating and negative customer experience.

In addition, corporations using cashier-free locations have opened themselves up to a new kind of theft: at the checkout line. If an item doesn’t scan, it can be easy for a customer to just take it—even honest people, as this 2016 article from The Telegraph reports. Sneaky employees have learned ways to steal from self-service locations as well.

Companies experimenting with cashier-free locations are working through growing pains. In fact, technology glitches put the launch of Amazon’s first cashier-free convenience store, Amazon Go, on hold earlier this year. Its technology, which uses cameras, sensors and algorithms to track what customers pick up for purchase, malfunctioned when more than 20 people were in the store at once.

Retail automation can help elevate customer experience

By embracing automation—particularly in the back office—many consumer-savvy companies are finding they can free up employees’ time to provide unique and positive customer experiences. With manual tasks automated, they can experiment with new ways to draw people into their stores.

Take Lululemon Athletica, a Canadian-based, high-end athletic apparel retailer. Not only has the company invested in automated cash management, but in 2014 it opened an automated e-commerce fulfillment center in Ohio.

And this summer, the activewear giant opened its flagship Mindfulosophy space. That’s not a typo. Instead, it’s a concept area within a new, 8,000-square-foot Lululemon location on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Not only can shoppers purchase a well-made sports bra or comfy work-out tights, but they can relax on a comfortable cushion, don a pair of headphones, close their eyes, and listen to one of 12 self-guided meditations of their choice. Other Lululemon locations push aside product racks and offer in-store yoga classes. Cashier-free? No, but employees might need to understand the difference between Downward Facing Dog and Tree pose.

Other retailers have upped the store operations ante by offering unique encounters their competitors and online retailers can’t provide. The Disney Store experienced magical results after redesigning 320 of its stores across the United States, Europe and Asia. Its goal, other than increasing sales and profit margins—which it did by 20 percent—was to provide the best 30 minutes of a child’s day. For instance, a daily opening ceremony occurs when an employee selects a child to unlock the store by placing an oversized key into an enormous padlock.

Retail technology frees up employees to spend quality time with customers

You’re not alone if you are wondering what you can do to improve store operations; and that your company’s pockets might not be as deep as Amazon, Lululemon or Disney. But remember what you already know: Humans are a social species and while it’s great to plop down in front of the TV and shop from the comfort of your home, we also like to dress up and venture out to meet with friends—to try on a pair of shoes; to test the latch on a computer bag; to touch, feel and smell a fragranced lotion before purchasing. We like to physically pick up a product and get questions answered on the spot.

Are your employees too busy with manual duties that prevent them from bonding with your customers? When employees spend too much time on simple but manual tasks, such as cash management or stocking items, they are unable to provide excellent service that could lead to a sale. Are they working in the back office instead of creating positive customer experiences on the floor? Can retail automation help restore profitability that has possibly been waning?

Cash management technology helps drive efficiencies

Tellermate T-ix Money Counting Machines and intelligent cash drawers automate manual tasks, such as counting cash drawers at the end of the day or during shift changes. It’s a short-term return on investment (ROI) that pays for itself in a matter of months because it saves time and improves employee efficiency. We automate manual processes, such as cash counting, by reducing a cash drawer reconciliation from 10 minutes to 60 seconds. This drives efficiency and allows your employees to more spend time with what really matters—your customers. Everybody wins.

Can you free up employees by automating some of their manual duties? Can you afford not to? Download our case study to learn how Goodwill of Southeast Wisconsin saved 2 to 4 hours a day, per store, providing its staff with more face-to-face time with customers.


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