Robots are not the answer to store challenges
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
I love robots. In my spare time, I coach a high school robotics team. Robots are what will get us to Mars and on asteroids and inside volcanoes and to the depths of the ocean. They have an important place in industry too, accomplishing repetitive tasks with a high degree of precision and consistency.
But why do I keep hearing all these pronouncements about how robots are going to revolutionize the retail store – save it, even? Even before Amazon.com opened up its Go store and all the proclamations at NRF, lots of predictions heralded the rise of retail robots in stores.
Yes, you get rid of cashiers and a couple of staff who used to run the in-store order pickup desk. But don’t you have to replace them with the team monitoring the fulfillment robot? And the cashier-less stations? Don’t you need a few people nearby to troubleshoot, maintain and fix all this tech in stores? And don’t you also need to provide more front-end assistance – to help educate customers or provide service or assistance in understanding product options and selection?
I also can’t see a future for stores where higher-skilled “sales” people and customer service people are not part of the equation – otherwise, why bother at all?
Robots in stores, to me, seems like a proposition that completely devalues what the store has to offer – an experience. A sense of community. Entertainment. Education. Service. Engagement. I just don’t see how robots make that possible – unless you talk about robots in the context of a new staffing and service model for stores, one that replaces low-skill, low-pay jobs with yes, fewer, but also higher-skill, higher-pay jobs. And I still don’t see how that ultimately nets an ROI, not when you just end up shifting the money you saved on labor into automation maintenance, even before you start investing in higher-skilled workers.
Is it just a fascination with “the future” that keeps people going on about robots in retail? Has anyone really thought this through, from a total net impact on the business perspective? Because as much as I love robots, I just don’t get it in retail.
- Robots Are Not The Answer To Store Challenges – RSR Research
- Workforce eBook: Four Steps To A 21st Century Workforce – RSR Research
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that the current fascination over robots transforming retail is a bit irrational? Have you become more confident or concerned over the last year about the potential benefits of automation on retail selling floors?