Auto-Retailing Has Nothing To Do With Cars

Jan 24, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

An article in the Wall Street Journal referenced in the previous RetailWire news story and discussion, Lundgren Has Merchandising In His Blood, recounts
how Federated Department Stores’ chief Terry Lundgren put three-foot tall robots at the entrance of Macy’s to greet shoppers as they entered the store.

Many within the industry did little to hide their skepticism (and snickers, based on the WSJ piece) when word of the robots got out. This took place even though Macy’s
robots appeared more lifelike than humans doing the same job at other stores.

The move to use automation to replace employee customer service functions, such as price-checks, checkout, etc., continues to grow (perhaps there is a future for robot greeters
after all) and shows little signs of slowing up.

Frank Riso, director of retail vertical marketing at Symbol Technologies told Newsday, “Maybe the only person a department store would need is a fashion consultant. A
grocery store might only have a butcher to provide specialty cuts for customers.”

Allan Algazi, a business development manager at Hand Held said automating functions such as self-checkout do have limits. “This technology will never play in jewelry stores or
shoe stores. But at mass merchandisers or supermarkets, where people don’t need as much personal attention, there’s a lot of potential.”

Kip Tindell, chief executive of the Container Store said many of his peers believe they have little option but to automate more functions. “A lot of retailers have given up on
the idea that you can find truly great people to work on the retail sales floor. But the payoff is enormous when you do find those employees. Customers are just yearning for someone
to help them,” he said. “Talent is everything.”

Moderator’s Comment: Which offers the biggest competitive advantage at store-level, people or automating functions to let shoppers do it themselves?

Kip Tindell is right, “Talent is everything.”

The problem for many organizations is finding the talent. Retailing as just a job, the first job for many, usually doesn’t offer the type of rewards to
keep people around long enough to think about it as a career.

George Anderson – Moderator

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