The retail business is dwindling world over. Even before the pandemic, retailers were dealing with strong competition and declining profit margins. Now over a year into lockdown, retailers are striving to learn from past mistakes in a rapidly changing market.
Retail is a massive industry. In the United States, there are approximately 3.8 million retail establishments supporting more than a few trillion dollars in GDP. The industry employs more people than any other sector in the U.S. Therefore, running a retail business in America requires a lot of effort and efficient technology for operation management.
The shift to ecommerce and the COVID-19 outbreak have created a strong market for ecommerce, resulting in the disappearance of several brick-and-mortar retail outlets. A customer setting foot in a retail outlet expects immediate and impeccable service, similar to the one received through an online purchase. Therefore, a retailer should have a well-maintained facility and provide good customer service. This is only possible if technology like workflow automation software is in place.
Removing the Automation Stigma in Retail
Recent research indicates the global retail automation market is expected to be worth more than $19.5 billion by 2024. Retailers are realizing that automation is a mandatory capability to deal with the ongoing crisis rather than a job-killer as once perceived.
For background, workflow automation is a series of automated actions that together form a business process. Since processes are repetitive in nature, workflow automation decreases the need for employees to manually carry out the activities involved in the process. This creates more space and time for staff to focus on higher value activities, in essence reallocating human resources for critical thinking roles like customer service.
Today, workflow automation is no longer just an optional tool for businesses to consider. Process automation is becoming mandatory in all sectors, since it translates to reduced costs and higher levels of productivity. Forward-looking businesses in the retail industry are turning to automation software to streamline operations and improve the bottom line.
The main takeaway from adopting workflow automation software is in eliminating the pain of the mundane, which is why more employees are getting on board. It also reduces the impact of human error that is inevitable in paper-based manual workflows.
Why do Retailers Need Automation?
The primary impact of workflow automation in retail is in cutting costs and improving operations. This could be realized through better margins, more efficient workflows, higher productivity, time savings, reduced error, better compliance, data collection, and automated inventory checks and updates.
Process automation and workflow automation also help in improving many retail roles. Implementing automation software leads to better planning in marketing and sales. Data collected through these platforms helps retailers analyze and plan their sales strategies better, leading to better lead conversion and customer service. This data also helps businesses strategize their marketing campaigns and create greater brand value in the long run.
Refined Customer Service and Retention
Engaging software to take care of repetitive, mundane tasks frees up time to focus on the most crucial aspect of a retail business — customer service. Healthy and timely customer service is crucial to customer retention and business growth. It also leads to enhanced brand value over time. Giving customers time and attention to take care of their needs and resolve their grievances is very important in creating a strong customer experience.
Workflow and process automation do just that. These systems are able to seamlessly manage customer-related data while creating a space for swift order fulfilment, automated customer support and consistent service each time. In doing so, discrepancies that come with having to interact with a different executive on each visit are prevented.
Reduction of Costs
Automation directly and indirectly leads to cost savings. Going paperless through automation of paper-based processes leads to lowered expenses through reduced use of paper, time and minimal manual error.
These types of savings are major factors that lead to significant cost benefits. Retail settings change too swiftly for paper. Searching for documents in the office drawer creates a lag in solving crucial issues like resolving customer complaints.
Using workflow automation software, one can digitize invoices, forms, employee and customer data, inventory and more. This gives retailers centralized access to important information, eliminating paperwork and capturing data straight from the base. This not only helps in cutting costs but also in streamlining retail operations. Process automation software not only ensures that information is collected accurately, but it also makes this data available and accessible at all times. Information located at a centralized source can then be easily extracted, distributed and analyzed when needed.
Ability to Scale
Workflow automation software not only helps increase the sales of a retail business but also in scaling up the enterprise. Manual processes make it really hard to achieve brand growth. Digitized data collection and processes, however, can be scaled up as easily as they are maintained.
Imagine inventory that needs to be scaled up but has been manually processed. The mammoth task involved in recording the additional inventory is enough to douse progress.
Apart from the transition to a bigger brand, inventory and sales data from previous years help to analyze in which direction to take your retail business. Data analysis is a crucial process in any business strategy, especially now during a pandemic when consumer behavior is so volatile and unpredictable. Automation tools provide you digital access to this information, helping you make business decisions through a precise and data driven approach.
Goal Setting for Success
Automation can address many challenges facing retailers today; however, successful implementation requires a holistic strategy that aligns to the goals and objectives of a business.
A good starting point is to create a vision — identify overarching goals for automation and the processes that could benefit most. Additional investment in people and technology might be needed, depending on the level of automation required. Getting employee and stakeholder buy-in is critical to set automation up for success in the long run.
The importance of this step cannot be overstated. Automating processes out of order or focusing on the wrong areas can create risk and minimize results.
There are too many benefits to forgo if choosing to avoiding workflow automation software, and with competition heating up in the market, it is becoming more like a mandatory requirement than an option for retailers today. Rising labor costs, difficulty managing supply chains and increasing expectations from customers is creating an opportunity for automation to assist in developing brand value and creating a firm niche in today’s dynamic retail environment.
Praveen Kanyadi is Co-founder and VP Products at Groupe.io, a productivity platform that delivers real-time communication, automation and specialized apps for frontline workers. Kanyadi has a deep understanding of the productivity and communication challenges faced by organizations with frontline employees. In his current role, he has helped organizations across the globe improve operational efficiency through direct communication with frontline workforce and automation. Kanyadi has successfully led deployment of Group.io to over 300 customers in hospitality, retail, healthcare, manufacturing and construction across 10 countries.