How retailers can survive and thrive with automation

From high street shops shutting for months on end, to e-commerce operators coping with high demands in lockdown, the retail industry has had a rollercoaster of a year. After battling the Black Friday and Christmas season, who knows where retail is headed next as we enter the new year.

But what Dr Paul Rivers, CEO of Guidance Automation, highlights, in order for retailers to scale-up their operations efficiently to manage the numerous peak seasons over the year, with potential reduced workforces, they need to invest in automation. It’s now or never to embrace retail-technology and automate processes that will benefit businesses not only in the short term, but for long term success.

Societal Challenges

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, as well as the increase in flu cases over the winter period, retailers need to prepare for the possibility of reduced staff. Manpower alone won’t be able to meet consumer needs, with statistics expecting a sales growth of 7%.

And this isn’t just applicable in warehouses. There has been a nationwide shortage of HGV drivers across every industry, which may mean there is a reduced volume of stock available, as well as slower delivery times. This shortage has also extended to forklift truck drivers, which should prompt more UK companies to adopt automated materials handling equipment to optimise the efficiency of their warehouse processes.

With all the contributing factors of peak volumes, including consumer expectations and labour shortages, now is, therefore, the perfect time to consider automation and robotics to augment and transform existing operations.

Invest in Automation

Digital transformation is essential for survival, now and into the future, as it gives companies a competitive edge, especially for retailers. Automation acts as a driver of efficiency and accuracy, which can streamline warehouse processes to cope with the demand of January sales, in particular. These technologies can also ensure customer satisfaction goals are met with consumers wanting to ensure they get their discounted items quickly.

Although the holiday shopping surges have been and gone , there is no time like the present to begin that gradual implementation. An investment in automation and robotic solutions could help retailers get ahead of the 2022 curve and prevent performance challenges during the next peak.

Redeploy the Humans

Process-led roles such as picking and packing in the warehouses can easily be automated, which will not only reduce errors, and therefore costs, but it allows the workforce to focus on more sophisticated tasks, such as decision-making. By implementing automation and robotics into the warehouse, it can also eliminate outdated operations that rely too much on manual processes.

It is never too soon to imagine a more successful peak season when reliance on labour is decreased, resulting in fewer errors occurring, higher output and improved safety. It also reduces the need to hire seasonal staff as robotics can be deployed to assemble typical e-commerce orders, making the warehouse less dependent on the additional labour workforce required to handle growing volumes of packages.

Conclusion

A crucial element to retailers’ success is automation, and without it, the chances of meeting growing customer demands are limited. The last year has demonstrated how agile businesses must be to transform their processes when faced with challenges,  and particularly for retailers, it has highlighted that there may be more than one peak shopping season.

Therefore, it is crucial that if retailers want to keep pace with the digital economy, they must have the right technology in place to meet both expected and unanticipated demand. The automation boat may have been missed for some retailers in 2021, but leaving it any longer could result in another year of missed opportunities to leverage the benefits of shoppers returning both to the high street and online in their masses.

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