It may take Western retailers a while to feel the pressure of implementing the use of robots and automated distribution centres, but their Chinese counterparts are already taking speedy measures to ensure fully automated stores are in place in 10 years’ time.
JD.com’s big boss Richard Liu said the reason being is that shoppers in China have ever-changing demands, whilst those in America and Europe tend to be more loyal to retailers who provide them satisfactory service.
Chinese customers are always looking for something new, which when matched with speedy delivery becomes all the more attractive to them.
Putting loyalty aside, though, the reality stands that there’s no stopping the rise of the robots. In fact, they have already infiltrated various industries-auto, healthcare, gaming-including retail.
Whether consumers and retailers accept it or not, they are bound to witness a robot-driven industry before they know it.
That is clearly evident in the method of expansion online retailers are utilising. And we’re not just talking about Amazon and JD.com whose fulfilment centres abound with mechanical workers, as numerous online shops are in the process of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) platforms into their businesses too, such as machine learning, speech recognition, and chatbots, among others.
“Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI (artificial intelligence) and robots, not humans,” were Richard Liu’s words at the annual World Retail Congress in Madrid, Spain.
He was quick to add, though, that it’s going to take another decade to prepare the industry and consumers for stores powered by machines as the future of retail rests on a lot of ceaseless innovations. This, he said, will eventually lead to cost reduction and improved customer experience.
Coming from the head of a company that owns a fully automated warehouse and uses drones and robots to deliver packages, that statement doesn’t seem to require further convincing documents.
However, whilst there are big retailers who shared Liu’s point of view, such as Shop Direct and Marks & Spencer, who have in fact announced staff layoffs, as they’re poised to automate their distribution centres, others were vehemently against it.
Among them is Tom Athron, group development director at John Lewis, as he believes one cannot function without the other. He stressed that nothing can make the industry stronger than it already is than the combined powers of robots and human beings.
“Humans and machines together will always be more powerful than machines on their own or humans on their own. If consumers don’t want the human touch in retail then we are in real trouble as an industry,” he remarked.
Whilst automation can get mundane tasks done faster than with humans, hence their consideration in the day-to-day operations of a business, it’s missing a quality which only resides in the human heart-empathy.
Speedy delivery isn’t the lifeblood of retail, but customers are. So the absence of human interaction is likely to kill retail in cold blood and there’ll be no one to witness its death but robots.
Do you think the world is ready to witness that?
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