As the world shifts to the era of Industry 4.0, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is gaining momentum across all sectors, mainly because companies have begun to realize the importance of automating a process, and increasing efficiency has become second nature.
That is particularly true in the retail industry. Customers expect a faster shopping experience with an uncompromising attitude towards error. To put this in perspective, retail sales have declined by 3% from 2019 to 2020, but e-commerce sales increased by more than 27% in the same period, according to eMarketer. Moreover, it is expected that by 2023 online sales will account for a quarter of the overall retail industry.
Hence, reducing human intervention and human error in an online sales business will give the brand a competitive advantage.
So, how can a retailer (including small-time retailers) tackle the challenge of competing with large corporations with increasing production costs and customer expectations? Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is your answer. There are many benefits of RPA in business. But how does it help specifically in the retail sector? Let’s find out.
HOW DOES RPA IN THE RETAIL SECTOR HELP?
Retail is the concluding step of a complex supply chain with several additional costs that keep adding at every stage. Anything (such as RPA in retail) that can improve these costs or optimize the costing of a product in between this transition can also improve the retailers’ profit margins.
RPA in retail supports various activities such as inventory, supply chain, returns processing, invoice and contract management, and store planning management. However, the lesser-known fact is that RPA also supports multiple office tasks such as onboarding, staff selection, payroll, training, health, and safety. The finance department can optimize activities around regulatory compliance, cash flow management, incentive claims, payables, and receivables.
There is no denying the fact that retail becomes successful with details. But, it is high time that you automate these details or repetitive tasks.
Top 11 Use Cases of RPA in Retail
According to recent data, global online sales increased to 8.8% of total retail spending in 2018, which was 7.4% in 2016. Online sales in the United States are also touted to double by 2023, which will reach up to 20 to 25% of the retail space. The industry is sure to face several challenges that need a restructuring of business processes from top to bottom.
Comparing these growth numbers to a considerably slow market, increasing labor costs, production costs, as well as undependable supply – retail owners can face significant challenges in the coming years. Other than this, retail is also expected to address the increasing need for consumer-centric business execution.
The use cases elucidated below happen to be the most common tasks that can be automated within the retail space. However, there are several other tasks where the efforts and errors through the human workforce can be significantly reduced, with an ideal implementation of valuable resources. Read on to get a gist of the use cases of RPA in retail –
1. Invoice Processing
Processing invoices is not just a time-consuming task but is also very repetitive. Workers are constantly surrounded by mountains of paperwork and spend several hours on unproductive activities. As a result, human intervention in this department continues to dilute profits.
Therefore, automating this aspect in retail is imperative.
With RPA in retail, collecting information, segregating data and processing bills becomes much faster and free of human errors.
2. Document Exchange
Employing multiple people to validate and transfer documents is an extravagant use of company resources. That can be minimized to a great extent, if not eliminated, with the incorporation of RPA in retail.
The necessary information can be relayed to relevant personnel or departments at lightning-fast speeds using RPA. With AI and ML algorithms, companies can set up intelligent automated systems that can also smartly validate documents of different types and formats.
All of that combined improves speed, lowers the risk of misplaced documents, and safeguards intellectual property better than ever before!
3. New Product Introductions
In a retail setup, several new products are launched regularly. As new products come along, older products also have to be updated. Attributes like pricing and stock quantity are subject to change much often.
Client and customer opinions are monitored in real-time to tweak product rates, manage inventory and adjust pricing and production, using RPA.
4. Business & Sales Analytics
Sales analytics is the key for multiple retail decisions, such as trade promotions, churn rate, and product introductions. RPA can provide real-time reports based on customer preferences and user behavior regarding a particular product or product features.
Furthermore, RPA analytics can help in predictive analytics, which supports stock optimization.
5. Store Planning & Inventory Management
The old-school, in-store retail strategy is to arrange the store according to existing customer preferences and requirements. And this is still relevant.
For instance, if you shop from a store regularly and the retail owner strategically places products based on your requirements, you will likely complete the purchase early. When the user can find relevant products without much hassle, that is a high selling point.
However, the issue with traditional methods is that it is only possible for human interpreters to consider a few significant factors. This is because the nuances extracted from high-level sales data can’t be analyzed by human analysts alone. They need support from technology, which is effectively offered by intelligent automation.
RPA in the retail sector can help you analyze the organization of your store to fit customer expectations, improve user experience, and boost profits.
6. Demand-Supply Planning
What is demand-supply planning? Based on the user’s demand regarding a particular product or service, organizations create a supply plan to fulfil this demand.
Traditionally, this was achieved by gathering data, standardizing this data, simulations, and other such activities. This was executed manually, and hence, guesswork was also a significant element of the structure.
With RPA in the retail sector, demand-supply planning can be automated. You would also make data-driven decisions for asset management, customer support, supplier management, and capacity management.
7. Marketing Planning
Trade promotions are essential in retail business processes. However, the manual execution of this activity is a costly affair for every retailer.
Well, simply because trade promotions require data gathering and analysis. It is the primary requirement, without which it is not possible to prepare trade promotions.
RPA in retail can achieve this task in much less time and with higher efficiency. For example, think of rebate management, which is actively used in the food industry. This is a sales promotion activity that improves the sales of the product in question. And without knowing the data and user preferences behind this product, it is impossible to offer a rebate.
8. Product Categorization
Retailers must categorize products based on both global and local stock-keeping units. Many factors are to be considered based on different market constituents and definitions.
RPA can improve categorization, and research backs this fact. A study by the Everest Group says that automation can help you improve product categorization accuracy by 98.5%.
So, if you utilize RPA for retail, you can correctly place several products in relevant categories based on multiple user-related factors.
9. ERP Management
What is ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning?
ERP includes activities like billing, price changes, account payables, receivables, and more. When these activities are automated, it is possible to reduce human efforts to a great extent.
Further, when this automated or RPA-powered ERP is integrated into the warehouse, you can seamlessly enhance your inventory management efficiency. In simple words, this automation will ensure that you never run out of valuable inventory.
10. Customer Support & Call Center Processes
Customer support is the basis of RPA in retail. Every activity and use case discussed until now, or the ones we will discuss further, are directly or indirectly related to customer support.
However, one of the direct automation applications is offering customer guidance through automated bots, especially if you are an e-commerce retailer. You can provide all-time support to your users through automation.
Your RPA bot can send updates to customers to keep them in the loop from order payments to delivery. The software bot can also be configured to address simple user queries and take feedback from the sales team.
Think of all the time and money you can save with this critical information. For example, the sales team can use feedback to remove minor glitches from the sales cycle.
11. Logistics and Supply Chain Management
Logistics and Supply Chain Management are at the heart of retail activities. Every retailer is expected to take the products from the suppliers and send them to the customer. However, in between this transition, several processes are involved, such as inventory level monitoring, customer support, shipment, order status tracking, and reverse shipment. All these processes are dependent on human workers sitting in the back office.
When you deploy robotic process automation in retail to automate logistics and supply chains, you can improve collaboration between suppliers, customers, and distributors. Additionally, you can also enhance the working of your employees, who can now focus their attention on more strategic roles.
Automation in the retail sector can ensure cost optimization by optimizing inventory usage and costs of wastage. With minimized costs, you can even reduce the cost of products for the users, which will improve user satisfaction levels.
More than anything, RPA in retail can help you surge ahead of your competitors by always staying ahead of industry trends.
Benefits of Robotic Process Automation in Retail
RPA in retail can help retailers organize complicated organizational tasks, such as compliance and audit regulation. When these activities are automated, employees can spare time for complex and strategic roles. Listed below are some of the benefits of automation in retail –
- Decreased delivery risks
- Improved compliance
- Better inventory management
- Improved application integration
- Enhanced user support
- Multi-tasking support
- Better auditing
- Optimized operational costs
If anything, the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the adoption of retail automation because it helps companies lower costs and improve pace. To further support this claim, statistics show that almost 7 out of 10 CEOs plan to drive growth in corporations via cost-cutting methods, according to PwC.
Hence, it is high time that even small businesses quickly turn to automation to maximize customer satisfaction and compete with much larger competitors head-on.
Originally published here.