The changing face of retail

Smarter solutions

Across the Tasman, Sydney’s Vivid Ideas festival recently explored digital megatrends and the implications of automation on the workforce.

In an interview with the Australian media ahead of the festival, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, a principal scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), says these are interesting times – and most sectors of the workforce will be impacted in some way.

“Retail staff who aren’t doing much in terms of direct customer interaction are at a high risk,” Hajkowicz was quoted as saying.

“We have identified that 90 per cent of retail jobs are highly automatable.”

The more human interaction a job had, and the more complex and creative a task, the more likely it was to survive the oncoming digital onslaught.

So, sales assistants who can offer detailed, insightful and problem-solving advice to a customer will have a better chance of remaining relevant than the person who sells you a movie ticket, for example.

“Where a job isn’t routine, then it is less likely to be automated,” explains Hajkowicz.

“Your humanness is what’s going to make you have a really good career. Communication skills and emotional intelligence will be vital to do your job,” he said.

The self-scanner model in place at supermarkets and other big box stores like Kmart is just the tip of the “frictionless” checkout iceberg.

The future retail model is likely to allow individual shoppers to only enlist the help of store assistants if they so choose.

At the Amazon Go food store in Seattle, there are no checkouts to be seen – it’s a bricks and mortar equivalent of an online shopping experience.

Using the Amazon Go app, customers simply enter the store, select the products they want and walk out.

Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When a customer’s finished shopping, they just leave the store and soon afterwards, will be sent a receipt and their Amazon account will be charged.

This technology will certainly disrupt shopping as we know it, and goes well beyond other large retailers who deploy robots to analyse inventory, check pricing and predict demand.

A study published last year by the McKinsey Global Institute predicted that by 2030, upwards of 800 million jobs worldwide could be lost to automation.

Let’s face it, most of us would love to do away with the administrative hassles associated with having a team of retail staff – rosters, bureaucratic compliance, managing egos – but it is the human factor that will determine a retailer’s success in the future shopping environment.

So how will your retail business adapt to changing expectations, new technology and the brave new retail world?


Read more market insights from Workplace

Subscribe to receive the latest commercial news and insights from Bayleys Workplace