In our new special report, Retail Week looks at the far-reaching impact of robotics across retail and what retailers should be doing now to prepare for the new wave of automation.
Robots are no longer science fiction. They’re here and they’re fast being adopted into the workforce.
Two years ago, Deloitte forecast that there were 2.1 million jobs across retail and wholesale that have a “high chance” of being automated over the next two decades.
Since then automation has continued to gain momentum.
Retail bellwether Amazon has 100,000 robots working across its warehouses, while Ocado has lured a clutch of international retail partners through its Smart Platform, which includes robot-powered fulfilment centres.
Speaking at World Retail Congress in April, Chinese etail giant JD.com’s chief executive Richard Liu said: “Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI and robots, not humans.”
But the rise of the retail robot may not be such a bad thing.
Bruce Ackman, industry and energy commercial lead at Cambridge Consultants – the technology firm that partnered with Ocado to develop its robotics-enabled warehouses – says: “We’re trying to displace the fact that humans are no longer interested in certain kinds of work.”
Chief technologist of Amazon Robotics Tye Brady agrees. “When there are tens of thousands of orders going on [in our warehouses] simultaneously, you are getting beyond what a human can do.”
When deployed correctly, robotics and automation have the ability to gather vast amounts of data quickly and accurately, and can complete repetitive tasks more speedily and cheaply than humans are able to.
Retail Week’s special report, Can robots help run your business?, delves into how robotics and automation will impact stores, warehouses, delivery and customer service, which sectors will be most affected and what retailers should do now.
Whether it’s freeing up stretched store staff’s time to answer customer queries or dealing with staffing issues in your fulfilment centre, the question might soon stop being if you should use robots in your retail operation, but whether you can afford not to.