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Is automation creating retail jobs?

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Automation could be creating jobs in retail. According to a new report, the rise of ecommerce is driving an increase in employment that’s sufficient to offset industry automation. The unexpected finding has been attributed to improved service quality.

The Progressive Policy Institute determined automation might be creating more job openings after looking at labour statistics from a different perspective. As the MIT Technology Review reports, its new analysis includes segments of the ecommerce supply chain that are usually overlooked. By including jobs in places such as online fulfilment centres, a different trend in the data emerges.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 140,000 physical retail jobs have been lost since 2007. In the same period, ecommerce has opened 126,000 new opportunities, creating a shortfall of 14,000 positions. This appears to conclusively demonstrate that automation is taking human jobs.

The Progressive Policy Institute argues that this approach to the numbers offers limited insight into the true situation. Since the scores of fulfilment centres wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for ecommerce, all the people currently employed in these locations can also be included. When the problem is tackled from this angle, the number of positions ecommerce has created rises to 400,000.

Apparently, automation is creating thousands of jobs. They’re also better quality positions, since fulfilment centres typically offer a 30 percent higher salary than comparable positions in brick-and-mortar stores. This leads to the intriguing conclusion that autonomous technology is driving a net increase in overall employment.

The researchers explained the finding by suggesting the simplicity of ecommerce is causing significant growth in productivity. Consumers save time by shopping online, causing them to return to digital stores on countless occasions. They ultimately invest more time and money in retail services, spurring growth in the sector. This sets up a chain of continued investment that eventually leads to increased human employment.

The report concludes by attributing the rise in paid work to the reduction in “unpaid household hours” triggered by consumer use of ecommerce. Things you formerly did for free, such as bringing items home from a store or returning unwanted items to a sender, are now completed by salaried members of the economy. Retail is expanding into a wider industry that has to be assessed alongside sectors such as transport and warehousing.

“It may be surprising that ecommerce employment is rising much faster than brick-and-mortar retail employment is falling,” said the Progressive Policy Institute. “Since ecommerce companies are supposedly more productive than traditional retailers, people think they must therefore employ fewer people.”

“But the increase in paid employment can be best understood by considering that the economic activity “shopping for goods” actually combines two labor inputs: paid market work by retail employees, and unpaid time by households, in the form of driving to the store, parking, wandering through the aisles, checking out, and driving home.”

The trend suggests automation could continue to create job opportunities until robots reach the fulfilment centres. As per the visions of tech companies, the report implies robots are succeeding in supplementing human work without replacing it. When measured against wider sectors of the economy, retail seems to be booming and humans are gaining a large supply of well-paid jobs. While it may not be an obvious conclusion, it seems we have autonomy and the Internet to thank.

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Amazon rival Rakuten buys mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside

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Rival to Amazon and Japanese retail giant Rakuten has acquired Silicon Valley mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside. Details of the all-cash deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition could be a boon for the Japanese e-commerce company.

Mobile solutions for brick and mortar businesses

Founded in 2013 by former Apple engineers Jaron Waldman and Denis Laprise, Curbside has a suite of features that deal with all aspects of mobile commerce for restaurants and brick and mortar retail stores. Their most popular feature, ARRIVE, tracks customer’s journeys to predict when they’ll be approaching and arriving to have the product ready in an instant.
In its suite, Curbside’s offers programs that build online storesfill online orders in-store and grow store traffic.

According to Tech Crunch, the terms of the “all-cash” deal were not released. Curbside has previously raised between USD$40 and $50 million from investors like CVS, Index Ventures, Sutter Hull Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Chicago Ventures

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Curbside was valued at more than USD$100 million in 2015 during its last venture round.

Part of the family

In the press release from Curbside, co-founder and CEO Jaron Waldman writes, “For our customers and partners the headline is that nothing will change. Curbside will operate independently as a Rakuten-owned company with our team, services, partners and product offerings all remaining intact.”

Yaz Iida, President of Rakuten USA, Inc said in a press release “Welcoming Curbside to the Rakuten family is all about the consumer, and we are excited to be able to empower consumers with even more ways to enjoy shopping.”

Mario Pinho, CFO of Rakuten, welcomed Curbside “to the Rakuten family” on LinkedIn.

Earlier this year, Rakuten announced that it’s building a customer loyalty program based on blockchain technology, and building its own cryptocurrency, Rakuten Coin.

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How brick and mortar grocers benefit from digital transformation

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Brick and mortar grocery retailers have the potential to adopt artificial intelligence to help with stocking their stores, pricing their products and being competitive with online retailers like Amazon.

Michael Feindt, the founder of AI firm Blue Yonder that specializes in helping retailers adopt AI to change how they carry out their core processes, wrote an article in Silicon Republic about how grocery chains can use AI to operate smarter.

With online grocers rapidly adopting AI, Feindt writes that it’s important for brick and mortar retailers to “move beyond their legacy infrastructure and adopt the technologies of digital transformation.” These technologies include AI and machine learning.

To stay competitive in a market that’s increasingly focused on consumer satisfaction, Feindt writes that adopting AI can help grocery chains stock their stores more efficiently in an effort to reduce waste and ensure customers get what they want, as well as price their products according to real-time data on deals and promotions offered by other stores.

Feindt writes that stock and pricing in brick and mortar stores — two traditionally human-led domains — need to start using the data they have, and use AI to help process that data.

Paul Clarke, the CTO at Ocado (the company behind the grocery robots shown earlier) told The Telegraph that AI is “critical” to the industry, and where it’s heading.

“From our point of view artificial intelligence is the one to rule them all when it comes to the set of disruptive technologies that power our business and we already make extensive use of machine learning across our platform,” said Clarke. “But really we just think we’re getting started.”

It’s also easier than ever before for grocery chains to go beyond self-service checkouts and start using AI to optimize business, below is an infographic detailing 65 tech startups that use artificial intelligence, virtual reality… etc to usher grocery store operations into the future. This list is packed, but it’s not exhaustive.

From using AI to combat food contamination to giving allergy-sufferers peace of mind when shopping to programming shopping carts to follow consumers around the store, there are endless ways that AI can enhance grocery operations and produce tangible results.

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Here’s the thing about how digital transformation will impact your business

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Here’s the thing about digital transformation: Everyone knows it’s happening.

But it’s hard to know which new technology or innovation is going to be the one that upends your industry, opens up massive opportunity, threatens your company, or forever alters your role.

Today we’re introducing a new, custom-tailored service to help you figure that out. The service combines journalism, research and market analysis to help you and your team understand the state of digital transformation (DX) and explore the key developments that will impact your employees and industry.

We call this our “Here’s the thing about…” service. Teaming up with the DX Journal, we leverage journalists, analysts, researchers and strategists to help your company get a full picture of:

  • What is likely to impact your industry
  • Your team’s readiness to deal with it
  • An in-depth look at major developments you need to pay attention to

Here’s how it works:

This service is designed to give perspective on how digital transformation will impact your company. We present our findings in an easy-to-understand format breaking down trends for multiple departments and for every skill set with documented takeaways and action items.

We uncover and share those findings in a simple, two-step process:

Step 1: Research & interview process

  • Custom research on digital transformation trends impacting your industry, customers, and competitors.
  • One-on-one interviews with your company’s executives, department heads or managers, employees and/or customers.

Step 2: Research presentation

  • A presentation to your company in an internal keynote-style presentation to any size group — be it a small strategy team or an all-hands employee seminar.
  • Our team of researchers, journalists and analysts will share the research findings, key trends in your industry and provide an overview of how well you’re set up to address challenges or embrace opportunities based on the employee interviews.

Who this service is for:

Let’s start by clarifying that digital transformation is not just an IT problem. Our clients are often leaders who are not technologists. In fact, many companies we speak with are surprised to learn how many areas of the business are impacted by DX, including marketing, HR, IT, sales, operations, legal, and others.

There’s no escaping that every area of a business is going to have to manage change that digital transformation brings. Digital transformation should not be left for the IT department alone to figure out.

With that in mind, we’ve designed this report and presentation service most commonly for executives and managers in:

  • Operations, finance & strategy
  • Human resource departments
  • Marketing and sales departments
  • IT departments

Sure, you might not have to deal with artificial intelligence in your accounting department tomorrow. Or chatbots in your HR department. Or big data solutions for your manufacturing warehouse. But how can you be sure if you don’t understand these emerging technologies? What if your competitors are? And what if they’re getting a 6-month head start?

To get started, please contact the DX Institute.

This post was originally posted on DX Institute.

DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.

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