Retailers, Don't Fret Robotics. Instead, Embrace It for Customers' Happiness

Robotic Automation is taking over the retail industry, and it causes all sorts of reactions. In this article, Kevin Twitchell proposes to leave doubts behind and focus on customer experience, which will demand both technology and people's best efforts.
4 min read
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By Kevin Twitchell
Advisor for Retail and Distribution Practice
Retailers, Don't Fret Robotics. Instead, Embrace It for Customers' Happiness

Ocado Technology, a DataArt client, recently partnered with Kroger to run several fully robotic warehouses in the U.S. The first warehouse, in Cincinnati, Ohio, is already up and running. Warehouse automation has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and the technology has significant potential for expansion in the grocery delivery sector. Ocado Technology was an early adopter of automated warehouses in the U.K. Now, the company has brought its innovative approach to the U.S. with the potential to elevate consumers' experience.

Some critics debate if automation is the right direction for the retail industry: they worry it will cause a decrease in employment opportunities and that there could be a potential backlash against Kroger. The fear of the unknown is an expected reaction to any change. However, it is essential to remember that automated warehouses still require workers to manage their operations. Robots can ease constraints on parts of the supply chain but can't entirely replace human workers.

As technology shifts the industry, customers are changing their preferences too. For example, around a half of consumers in the U.S. say they are more interested in online payment options in 2021 than before the pandemic, according to a recent survey by Over the past year, people also started increasingly value quick shipment (51%, men 41%), fast checkout (women 51%, men 41%), and quality of customer service (46%). In short, the comfort and convenience that became a necessity during the pandemic is now an expected part of the post-pandemic business.

Let's examine the situation through a global lens. Multinational companies have an added challenge: creating a consistent customer experience across several countries. For example, Unilever, an international consumer goods company and DataArt's client, said in its yearly growth report that one of the strategic choices was to digitize the wholesale and retail trade and focus on e-commerce. Unilever operates in around 190 countries, so it is an excellent example of how consistent customer experience will be a prerequisite for any business in 2021. Unilever works on every brand representation online to match its glory on a shelf in stores and actively implements customer choices via data-driven merchandising and artificial intelligence.

Automation has been a trend in other industries, too. For example, NASDAQ, a global technology company and DataArt client that works with capital markets and other industries, was the first in its field to implement a completely electronic market. In 1971, it was a turn from traditional floor-based trading models to automated data centers. As a result, automation allowed more efficient and faster transactions, which was a step closer to volume levels that modern market processes today. Being one of the first businesses to implement new technologies brought NASDAQ to the success of today.

When Amazon purchased Whole Foods, the logistics company went to lengths to maintain Whole Foods' customer-friendly shopping experience while improving the chain's technology. Amazon implemented Prime loyalty savings with discounts and free delivery for members shopping at Whole Foods. Now, Amazon Fresh rocked the market in 2020 with its contactless delivery option. As Amazon Fresh focuses more on savings and value, Whole Foods mainly provides healthy top-shelf products. Amazon understands the importance of user experience and applies this knowledge by introducing two grocery stores with different demographics and benefits, creating competition in both sectors, and setting a higher standard for customer expectations.

With its new partnership with Ocado, Kroger is also setting a new standard for efficiency – a seamless consumer experience. But that does not mean the human touch will leave retail. Instead, as online and offline channels mix into a seamless omnichannel experience, new opportunities for interactions and development emerge.

As retail companies of all sizes work to stay up-to-date with the growing demands of clients, the risks of those decisions grow larger. Thankfully, technology experts at DataArt can take the guesswork out of the decision-making process. Are you ready to bring new software solutions to your business? Reach out to talk to one of our experts.

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