The Power of Robotic Process Automation in a Post-Pandemic Retail Business

Published on in Robotic Process Automation by Cristian Ignat

2020 shook the retail industry like never before. The ensuing turbulence sent retail businesses adopting robotic process automation (RPA) in droves to minimize costs and create more efficient processes. This blog will examine the benefits of retail automation and what skills you need to use it effectively.

The state of the retail market during the pandemic

First, here are some interesting facts according to Alvarez & Marsal and the Office for National Statistics

  • The e-commerce sector grew by 36% in 2020, the most significant growth in many years.
  • The retail market fell by 1.9%, indicating the weakest annual growth of all time. 
  • Most EU consumers report a 15% increase in shopping online for vital household goods like homewares, electricals, food & grocery, and apparel.
  • Almost 30% of EU consumers report a willingness to continue shopping online even after the pandemic. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, self-isolation, and social distancing, people developed new habits and behaviors that, in many cases, will not go away after the crisis has ended. Online spending is eating up the retail market as more and more people now prefer to shop online. 

So how does this affect overall retail operations?

What changed for retail business during and will stay after the pandemic?

Here are five points rounding out the most critical changes that have occurred and will remain for the foreseeable future in the retail market.

  1. The extended transformation to online retail will strengthen, not wane, the value of personal connections with customers. Hyper personalized encounters will become a critical factor in online retail as more buyers expect the same level of service that they would get with real people. 
  2. Physical local shops now need to be integrated into a seamless omnichannel buying experience. Shoppers want to buy online but be able to view the product in the storefront or pick it up from a convenient location with a fast checkout.
  3. Retail applications of augmented reality, AI, and software robots will accelerate exponentially. This will introduce new customer experiences, making e-commerce even more customer-centric and personalized. It will also raise the efficiency of daily operations and reduce management costs.  
  4. Retailers need to diversify supply chains so that they are not vulnerable to potential supply and production interruptions. The closure of China and the collapse of shipping showed retailers that they can no longer rely on one market and supplier. 
  5. Changes in employee roles and professions in the retail labor market are inevitable due to a paradigm shift in the market itself. Employees have to retrain and acquire new skills as new technologies are introduced and the market changes.

Here’s why retail process automation is a key component to success for all five points.

Six processes to automate for post-pandemic retail businesses

According to recent Braincorp research, 64% of retailers considered automating retail processes in 2021, including 77% of large retailers. 

Here are the six most common use cases of robotic process automation in retail industry:

  1. Product return operations. The return of goods, especially those purchased from an online store, can be almost entirely automated. Application and warranty card submission can be made electronically. Software robots will quickly analyze these requests and designate a time and the nearest point for receiving the goods.
  2. Document Management. RPA allows automation to create and send out invoices, fill out tax forms, manage service provider contracts and applications, and route documents across company departments based on custom conditions. RPA can gather and join all document transactions and arrange them in an ERP.
  3. Customer support. RPA can update a client database, generate receipts, accept orders, transfer them to a shipping center, and send client notifications in conjunction with chatbots. All without human assistance or disruption due to administrative errors. 
  4. Demand and supply management. Bots can analyze data coming from warehouses and retail outlets, reconciling them and managing the delivery of goods. If necessary, bots can issue orders for shipping goods to those points where they are in need as well as schedule pick-ups for non-liquid goods from retail outlets.
  5. Consumer Behavior Analysis. Bots can analyze the chain of actions for buyers on a site, remember them, and then manage categories and product cards to form relevant offers. Bots can also explore competitors’ offers by collecting products and prices in separate Excel tables or databases.
  6. Logistics and Supply Chain Management. RPA automates communication between customers, suppliers, and distributors. This includes email or text notifications when an order is booked, shipped, delayed, or delivered. Software robots can also assign products to a specific warehouse depending on their capacity and availability along with managing the necessary shipping documents and accounting. 

How does RPA implementation affect a workforce?

According to recent predictions by McKinsey, 45 million US workers stand to lose their jobs to automation by 2030. Many are afraid that robots will replace humans in their workplaces. But this is only partly true. 

First, people often confuse robotization and automation. This fundamental difference is of importance since automation has accompanied humanity throughout its history, and robots have only just appeared. 

Even if you are afraid of robots (such as the Boston Dynamics type), their arrival is slow. And most importantly, robots are unprofitable because they are costly to produce. As it stands, human labor is cheaper. 

Things are different with robotic process automation tools since they create just as many jobs as they remove. The future of work lies in augmentation, not replacement.

For instance, Gartner predicted that AI and automation would create 2.3m jobs in 2020 while eliminating 1.8m. This means that new specialties are growing alongside the traditional job market. 

To be in demand, a workforce needs only three things: 

  • Think globally and search for new trends in work
  • Mature personal skills and creative thinking
  • Remain tech-savvy and invest in learning more

And most importantly, global corporations are already starting to train personnel for the new labor market since they are no less interested in this than the employees themselves. Just look at this recent IBM commitment to re-skill 30m people globally by 2030.

Retail automation benefits and implementation

RPA can be a considerable advantage to a post-pandemic business because it brings the following benefits to the table: 

  • Frees up working time for creative tasks and communication
  • Eliminates errors in documents, respects the confidentiality and security of data and document transmission
  • Dramatically accelerates the speed of business processes, making them more accurate
  • RPA does not require expensive IT system integrations but performs actions that an ordinary person usually does
  • Works well with legacy systems, does not require changes to critical systems and infrastructure

Choosing the right RPA implementation partner is crucial. Aggranda, a trusted UiPath partner, is standing by to give you a hand. 

Check out this robotic process automation example in the video below to better understand how RPA works. 

If you’re looking for more real-life case studies, check out the many Aggranda customer stories

And don’t hesitate to contact us in case you’re looking to implement RPA for your business. We are always happy to help with a free consultation regarding possible solutions and the price of implementation.