You and Technology

The robots are not coming!

If you weren’t paying attention, you may have missed the fact that one of the great celebrities of the future was born on July 31, 2022. George Jetson, the man who lives in the future with his wife Jane; his daughter, Judy; and his boy, Elroy, came into the world on that day and will be residing in a city in the sky, traveling by jet car within the next 40 years. “The Jetsons” animated series envisioned a future where technol-ogy solves all problems: Robotic housekeepers take care of your home, children and pets; automated devices dress you in the mornings; you travel by moving sidewalks inside your house and meals are taken in the form of pills.

Many of these things may come to fruition in the next 40 years, but most likely the technology advancements will not be that fast or complete— we haven’t even received the hover boards that we were promised in “Back to the Future II” yet. However,one thing “The Jetsons” did get right, was predicting the use of video confer-encing where poor George is overseen and harassed by his boss, Mr. Spacely, who is constantly checking up on him.

Visions of the future always assume that we will use automation to the fullest extent possible—anything that you can think to do, you can make a machine that will do it. There’s no doubt that automated retail ventures such as coffee machines (BaristaBot, for example), salad robots (Spyce) and Mediterranean bowl dispensers (Mezli) exist today. The idea behind these mechanical innovations is to eliminate labor and its associated costs while, at the same time, provide a cost-effective food offer to the con-sumer 24 hours a day.

“Retail automation, specifically the use of robots, is going to be less extensive than futurists think. Humans by nature want to have some type of social interaction.”

However, retail automation, specifically the use of robots, is going to be less extensive than futurists think. Humans by nature want to have some type of social interaction. The auto-mated food purveyors mentioned here are really nothing more than glorified vending machines and, ultimately, that is not enough for the interaction that humans desire.

Technology can play a role in helping retailers lower their operating costs and provide a better customer experience, but it won’t be by using robots. The technology applications that retailers need to look for today are software programs that automate the mundane and repetitive tasks that prevent staff from looking after customers.

Everything from daily paperwork, inventory ordering and checkout can be automated. By doing this you can free up time for staff to stock and clean shelves, brew fresh coffee or interact with customers in order to increase sales.

While automation can help make sure that you have the right inventory in stock, it’s the humans that need to put it on the shelf. Artificial intel-ligence (AI) can let you know when certain tasks need to be completed in the store, but it will be actual people who do the cleaning or refill-ing. Automated checkouts can help release a clerk from behind the counter so that they can engage more with the customer, but they will still need to verify the sale of age-restricted products.

The ROI that you receive from automation will depend upon the size of your operation and the number of employees you have. An important thing to remember is that if you are the store owner, your time is valuable as well. What additional things could you do to increase sales and customer satisfaction if you weren’t spending time doing repetitive tasks?

Areas of automation worthy of fur-ther investigation include inventory ordering, labor scheduling, shift duty assignments, HR paperwork, basic employee training, POS price-book accuracy, creating daily and monthly financial statement from POS data, daily shift sales and cash reconcil-iations, bank deposit calculations, account payables, payroll adminis-tration, fuel ordering and permit and license management.

Similar to using robots to save time, outsourcing jobs to part-time contractors can put tasks such as armor-car-delivered bank deposits, cooler stocking, store cleaning, price-book management and store accounting on an automated schedule with the advantage of people handling the more nuanced parts of the task. While you will have to pay for these services, they may cost less in the long run than having someone on your pay-roll doing the tasks, and it will free up time for more profitable activities.

Every hour of labor you can save per week is either a reduction in your operating cost or should be reinvested in making the store experience better for your customers. Dedicate your and your team’s time to those tasks that add value for the customer and, ulti-mately, increase your profits.

You may not have Rosie, the robot maid, in the future, but by imple-menting technology to use time more productively, you may be able to jet your way to more profits.

Roy Strasburger is CEO of StrasGlobal, a privately held retail consulting, operations and management provider serving the small-format retail industry nationwide. StrasGlobal operates retail locations for companies that don’t have the desire, expertise or infrastructure to operate them.

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