How did the pandemic crisis accelerate automation?
If there is one thing that is certain, it is that the COVID-19 crisis has created a very difficult business climate for retailers and consumers. In the face of these exceptional circumstances, many retailers have found themselves confronted with numerous operational challenges accompanied by a change in consumer behavior. In fact, shoppers have drastically changed their consumption patterns, now favoring online shopping. Moreover, as social distancing guidelines continue to apply post-COVID-19, the most desirable solution for businesses would be to digitize their in-store operations.
Workplaces are actively reinventing their operations to minimize health risks for workers and buyers. During the crisis, many companies have opted to work remotely, which has necessitated the digitization, and therefore further automation, of their operations. In the long run, companies that favor automated and contactless solutions will fare best, as buyers will always be wary of close personal contact. Moreover, companies are already feeling the need to increase and accelerate the automation of their stores and supply chains to meet growing consumer demand and staffing shortages.
So, as demonstrated by Statista’s numbers, automation is expected to be among the list of retailers’ priorities in 2022. By the end of the year, the retail industry’s automation market is expected to grow by 10%, which seems logical since automation is the key element in the digitization of retail stores.
But how does automation overcome the challenges and consequences imposed by the health crisis?
Reducing the shortage of store staff
Due to the very high risk of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, many employees were forced to confine themselves to reduce contamination in the workplace. This has resulted in a growing labor shortage, which has had a significant impact on the Canadian economy. Many businesses were forced to slow down their activities, opening hours, etc… The pandemic has highlighted the retail industry’s heavy reliance on manual store operations.
In order to mitigate or even overcome the consequences of this staffing problem, the automation of key in-store tasks would be the solution. This digital boost would allow stores to continue to operate and replicate all important tasks without constraints.
Numbers from Statista indicate that 45% of retailers want to implement real-time automation in the next few years.
Better safe than sorry
This pandemic has especially generated a wave of panic among the population, drastically changing their way of consuming. Retailers were caught off guard by this sudden change in demand, which exploded. Entire shelves could be emptied very quickly, leaving retailers little time to restock their customers in time.
In order to adapt to this new and growing demand and predict any future changes, retailers can introduce AI sensors in the aisles that are connected to a cloud base and deliver real-time analysis. The Pricer-designed Shelf Vision can collect a large amount of information about a product while ensuring planogram compliance. This feature helps detect gaps: it identifies missing products on the shelf in front of the camera, providing real-time alerts to store managers and staff when a product is out of stock.
Have a fast and smooth shopping experience
During the pandemic and beyond, shoppers want to spend as little time as possible in the store to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. Similarly, staff want to move more efficiently through the aisles to quickly collect products from a Click & Collect order. In fact, since the crisis, many people have become accustomed to doing their shopping online.
To make it easier to navigate the store and find products quickly, Pricer’s electronic shelf labels (ESLs) can flash to show you the location of the product you are looking for. This flashing feature combined with the geolocation of the ESLs greatly reduces the time spent searching for an item. This allows the shopper or staff to follow an optimal route and spend less time in the store or filling an order.
Ensuring all products are visible on the shelf
Manufacturers want to make sure that when they commit to selling their product in the supermarket, it is properly represented on the shelves and that the planogram is respected in order to maximize sales. Representatives of these brands come to the field to visit the stores and verify that the information is delivered in real time.
With an automated view of the shelves using AI, these manufacturers can monitor the shelves remotely and get immediate access to data and be alerted. This then allows for efficient inventory management, planogram assurance and reduced store management costs.
Many industries are increasing automation to combat the impact of the pandemic in addition to adapting to new consumer patterns. All of this has made the argument for increased store automation more attractive than ever.
Statista figures show that only 34% of retailers have automated data collection. But there will be no true digitization of retail without automation of store tasks. Automation will play a key role in post-COVID-19 retail and the time to act is now.