Global crisis due to COVID-19 has hit many industries – Retail is one among them. As per the research conducted by International Data Group (IDC), overall growth estimates for global retail in 2020 will be halved from pre-COVID-19 forecasts. This pandemic is a reminder that there is a need to build a flexible and agile business and operational model to take care of disruptions in the future and to get back to business normal ensuring business continuity. Now is the time for all retail players to overcome the current crisis and invest in building a more resilient organization. Consequently, there is a greater reliance on the Digital medium. Those who will be able to adapt responsively to the product, workforce, partner and operations needs will emerge as a winner during and post the COVID-19 crisis.
Scope of Automation in Retail
With the ever-increasing shopping trend – where the millennial shopper is expecting much more than a buying-selling experience, retail industries have to take care of accelerated deliveries, e-commerce experience, user-satisfaction, post-sale support and satisfaction.
Retail is all about the details. It is anticipated that customer experience will grow in importance during and post the pandemic time. With mass unemployment and an economy at its lowest, empathy and flexibility must be part of the customer experience. Retailers must take care of accelerated deliveries, e-commerce experience, user-satisfaction, post-sale support and satisfaction. The retail providers are expected to deep dive into the minute details to seamlessly improve the customer’s journey. These minute details include each and every piece of information like price, product mix, demographics, store location, product placement, etc. These details help to develop and show a brand promise, which, when delivered, leads to a flawless user experience.
How does RPA help in the retail sector?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help retailers stay relevant, effective, and optimized by helping them to automate mundane, repetitive activities, accelerate workflows, and optimize overall costs. Enterprises are acknowledging that the benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) extend far beyond basic cost reduction and increased productivity. The bots are being used for a wide range of generic back-office processes, by executing routine administrative tasks faster, accurately and consistently than humans.
RPA in retail can automate and seamlessly improve the workflow of most of the repetitive tasks, such as inventory management, sales analytics, customer complaints management and business reporting.
Leveraging RPA can help businesses, small or big, in gaining a competitive edge, as well as pursue continual growth. Small businesses like convenience stores that rely heavily on distributed order management and fulfillment will benefit immensely from RPA and related retail technologies. Especially in the post-COVID world, RPA will play a key role in determining the success of a venture as it increases the efficiency in small workforce.
Use cases of RPA in Retail
Below are a few ways in which RPA can come handy and help the retail industry to cope with the circumstances created due to COVID-19
- Distributed order management and fulfillment – Unattended bots can be deployed to handle the increased volume of essential items such as groceries, medicines, PPE, etc. Bots can balance orders and inventory in real-time, avoiding backlogs and delays in delivering critical products
- Supply chain collaboration and automation – Bots can be deployed to scan the systems and collect available inventory details across all the products and map it against the production volume, and generate a report for inventory management. Warehouse & Inventory management systems and store management systems can be made touchless with intelligent automation to make them more efficient.
- Contactless payments – Bot configured with the logic of reconciliation can help segregate and reconcile the number of receipts by cash, cheque, coupon, and credit cards with 100% accuracy and much lesser handling time.
- Accelerating supplier onboarding: Automating procurement processes such as extracting and sorting supplier’s information and quotation, contract management, and request-for-quotation packages resulting in accelerated supplier onboarding. The bots can also be leveraged to check the status with the suppliers for order fulfilment on time.
- Handling surge in employee job applications: Unattended bots can manage the surge in new applicants for retailers and automate the employee selection process.
Apart from the above-mentioned use cases, there are many more tasks that can be automated within the retail space like Business and Sales Analytics, Demand-Supply Planning, ERP Management, Customer Support processes and many more.
These are exceptional and unprecedented times and the promise that RPA/Automation holds for companies across industries is beyond doubt. As the situation unfolds several, RPA/Automation adoption will further intensify and more such disruptive use cases will come to the fore.
By Sanghamitra Barman, DGM-RPA and Naina Narwate, RPA Specialist, JK Technosoft Ltd.