Robotics Process Automation and Retail

Robotics Process Automation and Retail

August 23, 2016

Many of us have read about the use of robotics in businesses. It’s not really a new thing. Lowe’s implemented robots in their stores to assist customers and many warehouses use robotics to perform rote activities. But, what about using robotics to automate digital processes? Robotic Processing Automation or RPA.

RPA first emerged in retail about a year and a half ago to reduce costs by automating back office functions that are repetitive and routine. Such as month-end close and accounts receivable. Processes that often require the same data be entered multiple times for different systems.

Taking this a step further. If you can enter data into multiple systems then, might this also be a way for retailers to cull data from disparate systems into one location where the data can be synthesized and analyzed? Retailers who have struggled to access siloed data can now collect it into a location where they can gain better insights into customer buying habits, preferences and can then provide more personalized and digitally-led experiences.

RPA can offer huge opportunities for retailers. In addition to the opportunities mentioned above, this type of automation along with enhanced analytics offers the ability to predict and then match a customer’s need for real-time availability, location, price and delivery without the need for human intervention – while retailers improve their responsiveness and at the same time reduce costs and inefficiency. Imagine the efficiencies that RPA might bring to traditional functions such as customer service, complaints, and refunds. Even merchandise planning can be made more efficient through RPA, by linking multiple standalone systems without the need for duplicate data input or analysis.

It is expected that retail will see much more use of RPA in the coming year so, now is the time to start working on automation strategies. This will require that IT and digital teams work closely together to bring digital robotics together with traditional technology solutions and data analytics. Then comes the cloud.

The cloud (and coming soon, fog computing) provides retailers with the ability to scale quickly, store and access data from anywhere and get real-time insights. It also allows retailers an opportunity to transition away from expensive, customized legacy systems. A challenge to consider however is that those largely customized legacy systems may be deeply entrenched. An alternative approach may be a step-by-step transition, as part of a broader, long-term sourcing strategy.

Robotics, analytics and cloud – also referred to as RAC – will transform the way retailers interact with their customers across the enterprise and will meet the pace, requirements and demands of today’s ‘Always On’ shopper while providing much needed cost saving and efficiencies. Smart retailers are embracing this nascent field and building it into their automation strategies. Are you ready for this?