Among many other things, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the way we shop and sell.
According to the latest McKinsey Consumer Pulse Survey, the current trends are pretty optimistic for anyone involved in sales, both wholesale and retail:
- Depending on a category, the number of people switching from offline purchases to e-commerce grew from 15% to 30%;
- Roughly three-quarters of those who switched to online purchases due to the pandemic have no intention to return to brick-and-mortar shops.
On first reading, this means ongoing growth of orders and revenues for all hard-working enough retailers. In reality, growth of such an intensity always comes with some challenges.
Challenges faced by Retail & Sales in 2021
- Consumption traffic became highly unpredictable. It often does not follow seasonal trends any longer. Instead, herding behavior and wavelike trends become more prominent. For retailers, this means that sales forecasts must be developed following several potential scenarios at the same time.
- Having an online presence is no longer enough, it is already taken for granted. Online orders processing time is the new god. If you can demonstrate the minimum time spent on order preparation for pickup/delivery – you automatically win in competition, at least locally.
- Inventory time must keep up with your delivery speed. Having empty shelves (even if your shelves are only virtual) is an unforgivable mistake. Guaranteed availability is the new gold value.
- Omnichannel marketing and sales are a must. Businesses can no longer afford to hire people for routine. Sales must be creative and strategically thought through. This obviously requires more time and human resources.
Competition in this augmented reality of online sales requires business processes to be augmented as well, and this is exactly where retail automation and RPA implementation fit in.
What is retail automation?
Retail automation is the use of one or several tech solutions to simplify (or even eliminate) the most mundane processes, both technical and business ones. In other words, retail automation takes away the most tedious and low-value tasks, thus allowing employees of all levels to focus on individualized relations with customers.
This is all theory, however. Let’s take a real-life example of a team that has actually got themselves a robot for automating retail processes – order processing, transportation/delivery, and even invoicing.
Meet Radox, a HVAC company that has “hired” Nadia, a software robot designed for them by Aggranda, their RPA partner and also UiPath USN partner
In several European languages, Nadia is a common female name that also means Hope. In the case of Radox, this has been the hope for higher efficiency and less routine at the same time.
You can see Nadia in action here:
Intricate coding aside, Nadia’s workflow can be easily understandable even for those who have never worked in retail:
- Nadia receives the order from a customer and reads order details.
- It reserves all mentioned in the order products and parts from the stock available.
- Nadia makes the picking list and sends it to the warehouse.
- Only at Step 4 do humans actually get involved, preparing the transportation vehicles for future delivery, following the order list.
- Meanwhile, Nadia prepares and prints out the delivery documentation.
- Once the order is prepared to be released, Nadia automatically deletes the reservation and releases the delivery.
And this is not the final step!
The post-delivery service is also organized by the UiPath robot! In several days after the delivery organization, Nadia will check whether the order has successfully reached the destination point and if so – will issue the corresponding invoice.
In a nutshell, retail automation robots like Nadia liberate human employees from red tape and routine paperwork.
As of today, Nadia is working in a team with five human employees. As calculated by Radox themselves, together the team is now saving at least 200 hours of work time each month!
Apart from time-saving, other benefits from robot automation in the retail industry include:
- Zero delays and absolute punctuality
- Complete elimination of human errors in the course of documents preparation
- Most routine processes are excluded from human interactions in the warehouse, thus leading to higher employee satisfaction
- An indirect saving effect may be also achieved in terms of paper, ink and snail mail expenditures since a larger part of the document workflow is now processed automatically.
Radox, now Nadia’s home office, is the European producer of radiators, heaters, central heating systems, ACs, and other HVAC equipment and systems. This means that the demand for Radox’s product is stable all year round (ACs are in demand during the spring/summer season, heating equipment – in all other months of the year).
Thus, Radox, keeping up with the intense competition in their market segment, cannot really afford delays in orders processing and/or human errors in document preparation.
UiPath partner Aggranda has developed Nadia for Radox, taking into account all specific features and every tiny detail in the daily operations of wholesale retail vendors. From the very beginning, the emphasis in robot development works was on the optimization of transportation and reserve stock as well as on a timely invoicing process.
The benefits of retail automation and RPA implementation in the daily work of warehouses may not be immediately measurable in terms of actual numbers. That does not imply they are not highly appreciated by all the sides involved.
For warehouse employees, retail automation means ease of work and liberation from routine. Customers get timely deliveries, always correct orders and errorless documents to go with that. Retail companies enjoy having happy employees on the one hand and satisfied, loyal customers on the other.