The crisis of the retail industry is known to us all. The traditional method of retail, as we knew it a decade ago, is now not applicable in the market. With the increasing complexity of every industry, retail is facing a challenge because of changing customer demands and growing requirements of high user satisfaction.
Robotic process automation or RPA is an optimum solution that can be utilized to complement unparalleled growth and the complexities attached to it.
RPA in retail can automate and seamlessly improve the workflow of most of these repetitive tasks, such as inventory management, customer engagement, loyalty scheme management, bill generation, customer complaints management, and business reporting.
This article will briefly discuss the importance, scope, use cases, and benefits of RPA in the retail sector. Keep reading to understand how automation can restructure several processes within the retail space.
Scope of Automation in Retail
Every day, we hear about retail-related emergencies, where the millennial shopper is expecting much more than a buying-selling experience. Now, you have to take care of accelerated deliveries, e-commerce experience, user-satisfaction, post-sale support and satisfaction, and much more thoroughly.
Simply put, retail is all about the details. The retail providers are expected to dive into microscopic details to seamlessly improve the customer’s journey. These tiny details include the prize, product mix, demographics, store location, product placement, and every little thing that you can think of.
These details can help you develop and radiate a brand promise, which, when delivered, leads to flawless user experience. Finally, sparking the interest of multiple users in your brand; repeatedly.
That being said, it is also necessary to understand that the ultimate motive of every retailer is to generate fractions of profit from selling a particular product. However, when the purpose is this simple and uncomplicated, then why are retailers searching for pennies in an empty bin?
Why are the users inconsistent? And why are the organizations that used to make considerable profits facing such a difficult time?
The answer is:
- Lack of relevance (not introducing innovative and fresh products)
- Lack of effectiveness (not making sufficient profits on thousands of products)
- Lack of optimization (not optimizing the workforce being utilized)
Every retail business, with both physical and virtual presence, is riding on the same boat. While the cost of a physical store is more due to the involved expense of the real estate, the complexity of retail is increasing for every retailer. This simply means that whether you sell your products online or offline or both, you have to strike a chord between multiple retail elements. If you don’t get the details right, you may get an initial boost, and then, the inevitable decline. Now, reversing this is a herculean task indeed.
Robotic process optimization or RPA enables organizations to automate mundane, repetitive activities, accelerate workflows, and optimize overall costs. This is the true nirvana of the retail industry, which can help retailers stay relevant, effective, and optimized.
How does RPA in the Retail Sector help?
Retail is the concluding step of a complex supply chain that has several additional costs that keep adding at every stage. Anything (such as RPA in retail) that can improve these costs or optimize the costing of a product, can potentially also improve the profit margins of the retailers.
RPA in retail supports an array of activities, such as inventory, supply chain, returns processing, invoice and contract management as well as store planning management. The lesser-known fact, however, is that RPA also supports multiple office tasks such as onboarding, staff selection, payroll, training, health, and safety as well. The finance department can optimize activities around regulatory compliance, cashflow management, incentive claims, payables, and receivables.
There is no denying the fact that retail becomes successful with details. But, it is high time that you automate these details or repetitive tasks.
Use Cases of RPA in Retail
According to recent data, global online sales increased to 8.8% of total retail spending in 2018, which was 7.4% in 2016. Online sales in the United States are also touted to double by 2023, which will reach upto 20 to 25% of the retail space. The industry is sure to face several challenges that need restructuring of business processes from top to bottom.
Comparing these growth numbers to a considerably slow market, increasing labor costs, production costs, as well as undependable supply – retail owners can face significant challenges in the coming years. Other than this, retail is also expected to address the increasing need for consumer-centric business execution.
The use cases elucidated below happen to be the most common tasks that can be automated within the retail space, however, there are several other tasks where the efforts and errors through the human workforce can be significantly reduced, with an ideal implementation of valuable resources. Read on to get a gist of the use cases of RPA in retail –
1. Business & Sales Analytics
For multiple retail decisions, such as trade promotions, churn rate, and product introductions, sales analytics is the key. RPA in sales can automate sales analytics by offering data-based, real-time reports on customer preferences and user behavior related to particular aspects of a product.
Utilizing these reports, you can analyze why a few customers are phasing out and use this opportunity to retain these users. Further, RPA analytics also helps in forecasting or predictive analysis, which supports stock optimization.
2. Store Planning & Inventory Management
The old-school, in-store strategy of retail is to arrange the store according to existing customer preferences and requirements. And this is still relevant.
For instance, if you shop from a store regularly and the retail owner strategically places products based on your requirements, you are likely to complete purchase early. When the user can find relevant products without much hassle, that is a high selling point.
However, the issue with traditional methods is that it is only possible for human interpreters to consider a few significant factors. This is because the nuances extracted from high-level sales data can’t be analyzed by human analysts alone. They need support from technology, which is effectively offered by smart automation.
RPA in the retail sector can help you analyze the organization of your store to fit customer expectations, improve user experience, and boost profits.
3. Demand-Supply Planning
What is demand-supply planning? Based on the demand of the user regarding a particular product or service, organizations create a supply plan to fulfill this demand.
Traditionally, this was achieved by gathering data, standardizing of this data, simulations, and other such activities. Needless to say, this was executed manually, and hence, guesswork was also a major element of the structure.
With RPA in the retail sector, demand-supply planning can be automated. You would also be able to make data-driven decisions for asset management, customer support, supplier management, and capacity management.
4. Marketing Planning
Trade promotions are essential in retail business processes. However, manual execution of this activity is a costly affair for every retailer.
Well, simply because trade promotions require data gathering and analysis. It is the primary requirement, without which it is not possible to prepare trade promotions.
RPA in retail can achieve this task in much less time and with higher efficiency. For example, think of rebate management, which is actively used in the food industry. This is a sales promotion activity which improves the sales of the product in question. And without knowing the data and user preferences behind this product, it is not possible to offer a rebate.
5. Product Categorization
Retailers must categorize products based on both global and local stock-keeping units. Many factors are to be considered based on different market constituents and definitions.
RPA can improve categorization, and research backs this fact. A study by the Everest Group says that automation can help you improve product categorization accuracy by 98.5%.
So, if you utilize RPA for retail, you can correctly place several products in relevant categories based on multiple user-related factors.
6. ERP Management
What is ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning?
ERP includes activities like billing, price changes, account payables, receivables, and more. When these activities are automated, it is possible to reduce human efforts to a great extent.
Further, when this automated or RPA-powered ERP is integrated into the warehouse, you can seamlessly enhance the efficiency of your inventory management. In simple words, this automation will ensure that you never run out of valuable inventory.
7. Customer Support & Call Center Processes
Customer support is the basis of RPA in retail. Every activity and use case discussed until now or the ones that we will discuss further are directly or indirectly related to customer support.
However, one of the direct applications of automation is offering customer guidance through automated bots, especially if you are an e-commerce retailer, as you can provide all-time support to your users through automation.
From order payments to delivery, your RPA bot can send updates to customers to keep them in the loop. The software bot can also be configured to address simple user queries and take feedback for the sales team.
Think of all the time and money you can save with this critical information. For example, the feedback can be used by the sales team to remove minor glitches from the sales cycle.
8. Logistics and Supply Chain Management
Logistics and Supply Chain Management are at the heart of retail activities. Every retailer is expected to take the products from the suppliers and send it to the customer. However, in between this transition, several processes are involved, such as inventory level monitoring, customer support, shipment, order status tracking, and reverse shipment. All these processes are dependent on human workers sitting in the back office.
When you deploy robotic process automation in retail to automate logistics and supply chain, you can improve collaboration between suppliers, customers, and distributors. Additionally, you are also able to enhance the working of your employees, who can now focus their attention on more strategic roles.
Automation in the retail sector can ensure cost optimization by optimizing inventory usage and costs of wastage. With minimized costs, you can even reduce the cost of products for the users, which will improve user satisfaction levels.
More than anything, RPA in retail can help you surge ahead of your competitors by always staying ahead of industry trends.
Benefits of Robotic Process Automation in Retail
RPA in Retail can help retailers organize complicated organizational tasks, such as compliance and audit regulation. When these activities are automated, employees can spare time for complex and strategic roles. Listed below are some of the benefits of automation in retail –
- Decreased delivery risks
- Improved compliance
- Better inventory management
- Improved application integration
- Enhanced user support
- Multi-tasking support
- Better auditing
- Optimized operational costs
Retail businesses can utilize the capabilities of robotic process automation to structure rule-based processes and improve customer delivery services.
With automation, the need of executing manual and repetitive tasks is pretty much eliminated. According to statistics by PwC, there is a potential to save more than $2 trillion, by automating half the tasks being done by humans, and when it comes to an industry like retail – using RPA becomes paramount.
At Maruti Techlabs, we offer end-to-end robotic process automation services, where we take care of both functional and technical aspects, that result in high business value impact. We deploy a core team to assess and study current workflows/processes, and plan out the right RPA implementation strategy for your organization. We bring an in depth technical expertise coupled with significant business and sector based experience, which helps us identify and deliver as per your requirements, with precision.