It may take a while for Western retailers to feel the pressure to implement the use of robots and automated distribution centers, but their Chinese counterparts are already taking swift steps to ensure fully automated stores are up and running within 10 years.
JD.com’s great boss Richard Liu said the reason is that buyers in China have ever-changing demands, while those in the United States and Europe tend to be more loyal to retailers who provide them with satisfactory service.
Chinese customers are always looking for something new, which when combined with fast delivery becomes even more attractive to them.
However, loyalty aside, the reality is that there is no way to stop the rise of robots. In fact, they have already infiltrated various industries: automotive, healthcare, gaming, including retail.
Whether consumers and retailers accept it or not, they are sure to witness a robot-driven industry before they know it.
That is clearly evident in the expansion method that online retailers use. And we’re not just talking about Amazon and JD.com, whose fulfillment centers abound with mechanical workers, as numerous online stores are also in the process of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) platforms into their businesses, such as machine learning, reconnaissance. voice, and chatbots, among others.
“Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI (artificial intelligence) and robots, not humans,” were the words of Richard Liu at the annual World Retail Congress in Madrid, Spain.
However, he was quick to add that it will take another decade to prepare the industry and consumers for machine-driven stores, as the future of retail rests on many unceasing innovations. This, he said, will eventually lead to cost reduction and a better customer experience.
Coming from the director of a company that owns a fully automated warehouse and uses drones and robots to deliver packages, that statement doesn’t seem to require any more convincing documents.
However, while there are large retailers who share Liu’s point of view, such as Shop Direct and Marks & Spencer, which have in fact announced layoffs as they are poised to automate their distribution centers, others vehemently opposed.
Among them is Tom Athron, director of group development at John Lewis, as he believes that one cannot function without the other. He stressed that nothing can make the industry stronger than it already is than the combined powers of robots and humans.
“Humans and machines together will always be more powerful than machines on their own or humans on their own. If consumers don’t want the human touch in retail, then we’re in real trouble as an industry,” he said.
While automation can get mundane tasks done faster than with humans, hence its consideration in the daily operations of a business, it lacks a quality that only resides in the empathy of the human heart.
Express delivery is not the lifeblood of retail, but customers are. Therefore, the absence of human interaction is likely to wipe out retail in cold blood and there will be no one to witness its death except robots.
Do you think the world is ready to witness that?