Due to the pandemic, the eCommerce sector continued to grow exponentially, while the retail industry has been seriously affected, as the non-essential shops, such as clothing or malls have been shut down. People replaced brick-and-mortar stores with online shops for buying groceries, food, and other essential products, but also for items that could improve their lives at home.
Online sales are expected to continue to grow exponentially; for example, in the US alone they are expected to double by 2023, reaching 20-25% of the overall retail sector. But this also means that the retail industry is expected to meet a lot of challenges, as consumer expectations are higher.
The main challenges companies face are: growing production costs, changing customer behaviour, the uncertainty faced by the supply chain industry (a fluctuating level of demand, the capabilities to carry out deliveries and to meet all the requirements and so on), adapting to a new context dominated by technology, and the list can go on.
RPA could successfully solve all of these challenges, while increasing efficiency and productivity, improving customer experience and ultimately, leading to better business results. In the retail industry, business operations are based on high-volume, rule-based and repetitive tasks.
If so far all of these tasks were manually performed, it’s time to automate them and to benefit from the advantages brought by RPA implementation. In fact, according to Accenture Automation in Consumer Goods people Led technology enabled, 43% of the CPG (consumer packaged goods) executives already use automation to cut costs and increase efficiency.
Since the pandemic brought a lot of challenges for the retail industry, with both short and long-term effects, RPA could be the answer for solving them. According to KMPG, the main challenges are:
- Reviewing financial stability: the industry relies on having cash availability, so in time of crisis, is very important for retailers to analyze the financial situation and to prioritise the most important spendings, while cutting unnecessary costs – for example, renegotiations regarding rentals and refinancing loans;
- Managing demand fluctuations: at the beginning of the pandemic, people from around the world panicked and emptied stores, so retailers faced fluctuations in demand; they had to predict and manage the demand even better and faster – and they need to do so also now;
- Managing supply challenges: there are a lot of variations when it comes to supply chain discontinuities at a global level; there can be delays caused by the restrictions existing depending on the country so retailers should consider a lot of risks;
- Protecting employees: this is a long-term aspect that every retailer should pay attention to; the main challenge here is to maintain at the same time the safety of their employees and the profitability of their business;
- Managing customer relationships: maintaining customer relationships is even more important in pandemic times, when there is a lot of uncertainty; since customer needs have changed drastically, retailers have to adapt and respond to their needs, while strengthening trust in their products and services.
Robotic process automation could be implemented in every business process mentioned below and in many others. Workflows could be successfully automated, resulting in cost optimization and, eventually, to higher revenues.
Robotic process automation use cases in retail
1. Accurate sales reports
Sales analytics is a crucial element when it comes to making business decisions in the retail industry. Software robots can store and analyze large amounts of data and create detailed reports about customer desires and user behaviour.
This helps companies understand patterns, and find new opportunities to retain customers. Automating the process of reporting and analyzing is crucial for the real-time success of any retailer. Robotic process automation is also useful for forecasting business predictions.
2. Inventory management
In-store planning represents the way a retailer places products across the store according to customer preferences – if people have quick access to important products, they are more likely to buy them.
Automation could make this process a lot easier – RPA could help you analyze the way the store is organized in order to meet customer demands and to improve their experience, while increasing sales.
3. Supply and demand planning
This is a very important process for every retailer and requires gathering and analyzing a lot of different data, about the market, customers, or suppliers. Doing this manually requires a lot of time and is prone to error.
RPA is perfect for performing these tasks, providing higher accuracy and efficiency. Automating the processes of storing and preparing data allows managers to efficiently plan supply and demand.
4. Logistics Management
Retailers rely on logistics partners in order to operate their businesses. From manufacturing to delivering products to customers, there are a lot of business processes to consider: shipment, inventory monitoring, order tracking, customer support, and so on – and all of these may involve extensive teams.
Software robots could manage these activities faster, with a zero risk of error, while also working 24/7. At the end, with the help of RPA, the whole workflow will be improved and also the relationships between all the parties involved will be smoother.
Furthermore, human employees will be able to focus on more important activities which will lead to a higher level of satisfaction, since they no longer need to perform mundane, repetitive tasks.
5. Better customer experience
In retail, every customer needs the products or services they ordered quickly, and wants them to meet their requirements. So customer support is very important to business success – nobody wants negative reviews from dissatisfied clients.
Communication channels dedicated to customers could be efficiently automated by using software robots, especially in the eCommerce sector. RPA can provide 24/7 support, can process order payments, send notifications about the status of the order, and also filter customer requests, so that employees can more easily handle complex problems. This results in saving a lot of time and money while offering a better customer experience.
6. Effective marketing strategy
Having a strong, data-driven marketing strategy is crucial to any business. In retail especially, there is a lot of consumer behaviour data to be analyzed, in order to make the best strategic decisions and to meet customers’ demand. By gathering and analyzing data, marketing specialists can make fast decisions that will differentiate their brand from the competition.
Used in the consumer behaviour analysis, robotic process automation can provide insightful data and determine the next actions for a better customer experience, from trade promotions to loyalty programs.
7. ERP Management
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) represents the software systems used to plan and manage processes such as invoicing, billing, price changes, receivables, account payables, and so on. Automating these activities will provide a higher level of efficiency and productivity of employees, and also cost savings.
For example, as a UiPath Partner, Aggranda built for Ana Pan a software robot named Piscot, meant to help the company process orders from supermarkets. The robot can add the order in the ERP software, sends the cookies into production and sets the date and time for delivery to the supermarkets.
Using Piscot, the company reduced the cost and time it takes to input invoices into their system – each month Piscot is saving Ana Pan 60 hours of labor work for one person while reducing errors to zero. See here more about how Piscot makes processing orders easier for Ana Pan.
Robotic process automation will help the retail industry recover after the pandemic, since there is no other better solution for increasing efficiency and optimizing costs. Just to mention the main benefits of using RPA for retail we could say:
- Improved customer experience;
- Optimized operational costs;
- Avoiding human errors;
- Increasing employee satisfaction;
- Accessible implementation;
- Overall workflow efficiency;
- Accuracy reporting.
We constantly update our blog section with valuable articles presenting the use cases of RPA for different industries. Find out more from our articles about RPA in supply chain and logistics, RPA in finance and accounting, use cases and benefits for RPA in HR, top 5 use cases for automation in marketing as seen by the founder of a digital agency, and more.