Automation gives retail ‘competitive advantage’

As automation technology matures, it is increasingly becoming a point of competitive advantage for retailers, with consumers responding positively to the improved convenience, according to the Capgemini Research Institute.

During October and November, it surveyed 5,110 consumers across North America, Europe and Asia, along with 500 senior executives at director level and above, spread across the world. Retail sub-sectors included: electronics, grocery, home improvement, fashion and quick service restaurants.

The report found that a majority (59 per cent) of consumers, who have previously visited stores with automation, would be willing to shift their in-store purchases from a retailer without automation technologies to one that offers them; rising to 67 per cent for 22 to 36 year-olds.

Most consumers believe automation can help to solve pain points they experience in-store, including long checkout queues (66 per cent), difficulty in locating products (60 per cent) and products being out of stock (56 per cent).

Automation has an important role to play in bringing customers previously reliant on e-commerce back into stores as well, with Capgemini finding that 46 per cent of customers who had a positive experience with in-store automation said they would be willing to shift some of their online purchases from digitally focused retailers - those that mostly operate through websites/apps and with minimal stores - to stores that offer automation technology.

That number rose to 55 per cent for urban consumers, 58 per cent for Millennials, and sharply increases for shoppers in India (79 per cent) and China (85 per cent). On average, customers considering moving from online to in-store purchases would shift 20 to 25 per cent of their purchases as a result of the improvements that automation could bring.

Automation could also boost overall sales numbers for retailers, with 60 per cent of consumers overall being willing to purchase more online from retailers which accept returns of online orders in-store using automation – consumers expect they would purchase 22 per cent more if this were the case. Retailers also reported an 11 per cent increase in sales in stores with automation compared to stores with no/low automation.

Three quarters of retailers stated that automation could help them offer more sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions, reflecting a growing consumer desire to shop with retailers that can demonstrate green credentials.

Consumers surveyed said they would prefer to shop with retailers who use automation to reduce food waste (69 per cent), reduce consumables such as printed receipts (63 per cent), improve energy efficiency (58 per cent) and provide product sustainability information (52 per cent).

As retailers scale up their use of automation - nearly 21 per cent of stores are currently automated across areas such as in-store navigation and order fulfilment, but this is expected to increase to 36 per cent by 2022 - the report highlighted that they need to be rigorous about understanding customer needs locally.

While most consumers think automation has the potential to address their pain points in-store, there are both positive and negative nuances at a country level. For example, 43 per cent of consumers said they feel like an ‘unpaid sales assistant’ when using a self-checkout – a number which rose to 61 per cent for respondents in India.

While overall 59 per cent of customers said they would avoid a store if it was using facial recognition to identify them - specifically 53 per cent in the UK, 60 per cent in the US and 66 per cent in Germany - just 23 per cent of retailers thought this would be the case.

There were also differences in the importance that retailers accord automation by retail subsector, with nearly half of grocery and apparel retailers - 47 and 45 per cent respectively – saying their leadership considers automation a strategic imperative, compared to just 21 per cent of electronics retailers, compared to an overall average of 40 per cent.

Tim Bridges, global head of consumer goods and retail at Capgemini, commented: “Automation provides a huge opportunity for retailers to gain back some of the ground they’ve lost to digital-native competitors and protect the market share they currently have through better efficiency, more convenience, and better sustainability.

“Making the right investment choice and acknowledging the need for a range of deployments across different functions could unlock significant potential across both operational and customer-facing department.”

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